DC church wins injunctive relief from federal judge, can start holding services

Gavel in a court room. (Getty)(Getty Images/iStockphoto/IPGGutenbergUKLtd)

A D.C. church that filed suit against the District of Columbia has won injunctive relief from a federal judge and can begin holding church services in the city again.

Capitol Hill Baptist Church sued after twice being denied permission from the city to hold outdoor church services during the pandemic. While the lawsuit has not been decided, the judge’s decision in the case states that the church “is likely to succeed” in proving the District had hindered the church in holding services in violation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Part of the argument made by the church was that the city treated protests and demonstrations “more favorably than religious service by not enforcing capacity restrictions on gatherings against protesters.”

It argued that was evident by the attendance and support of city leaders including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, at some of those demonstrations.

Lawyers for the District tried to argue most of those demonstrations happened on federally controlled land and were out of the hands of city leaders.

In a statement, Capitol Hill Baptist Church Pastor Justin Sok said the church is, “thankful that the court has granted us” the ability to hold services in D.C. again. The church, which counts most of its members as D.C. residents, had been holding services at a field in Alexandria, Virginia.

“With this ruling in hand, we are speaking with the operators of a variety of outdoor venues to move our weekly gathering from Virginia to D.C.,” he said.

Pastor Mark Dever wrote on his Twitter page that “as Christians, knowing God, we can thank Him today for tomorrow!”

WTOP has reached out to the church, and also the mayor’s office for further comment, but neither side has responded.

The judge’s ruling only affects Capitol Hill Baptist Church and no other religious organization that’s still currently barred from holding any indoor or outdoor service with more than 100 people.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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