Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., sues Mayor Muriel Bowser over coronavirus rules

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington sued D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday over her new coronavirus order capping churches to a maximum of 50 people for services, arguing she’s picking on houses of worship while letting businesses operate at higher capacity.

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The archdiocese says Catholic churches have been holding services since June and there hasn’t been “a single cast of COVID-19 attributable to attending mass.” But with Christmas looming, they’re now being forced to turn parishioners away.

Ms. Bowser’s latest order limits attendance to 50 people, even for churches such as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic Church in the U.S., which could hold thousands of people.

By contrast, restaurants, where people can eat indoors, unmasked, are limited by capacity. Same with other establishments, the archdiocese said.

“Indeed, if the archdiocese were to fill its churches with library books, washing machines, exercise bikes, restaurant tables, or shopping stalls instead of pews, the District would allow many more people to enter and remain for an unlimited amount of time,” the archdiocese said in its complaint

It is asking for an injunction in time to hold Christmas Eve masses.

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“Christmas should be a time for reconciliation and joy, and the archdiocese simply wants to welcome its flock home. It respectfully requests that it be allowed to do so,” the archdiocese said.

The lawsuit likely has legs, based on recent Supreme Court rulings that have struck down similar numerical caps in other jurisdictions, in favor of limits based on capacity.

Before Ms. Bowser’s latest order, churches holding indoor services were subject to a cap of either 50% of capacity or 100 people, whichever was lower.

In her new order, the mayor urged churches to move to virtual services — but Catholics say that cannot accommodate the need for in-person sacraments such as Holy Communion.

Restaurants have been operating at up to 50% of capacity, but that will ratchet down to 25% on Dec. 14.

In California, several churches protested shutdown orders, arguing that strip clubs were given more leeway than houses of worship.

Pastors at the churches performed chaste strip-teases — removing a necktie, for example, while parishioners waved cash at them — to argue they were now strip clubs for God, and thus not subject to the state’s limits.

In D.C., the archdiocese said that if it were to convert the Basilica into a gym, it could host more than 600 people, not the 50 it will now be limited to under Mayor Bowser’s church order.

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