October 10, 2020 | By | ChristianityToday |
“Citing Hebrews 10:25, injunction issued Friday defends church’s right to meet together in person rather than mayor’s suggested online alternatives.”
On Friday, the US Court for the District of Columbia granted the church a preliminary injunction, allowing it to resume meeting—outdoors, socially distanced, and in crowds over 100—during the pandemic.
Capitol Hill Baptist had filed a lawsuit last monthafter the DC mayor’s office declined to offer the congregation an exemption to public health restrictions. The church argued that city policy violated its First Amendment rights.
The court decided that online alternatives to corporate worship were not sufficient to ensure free exercise of religion in a case where the church upheld a sincere belief in gathering together.
Led by 9Marks founder Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist upholds a belief in the church as a single assembly and has deliberately avoided multisite, multiservice, or online worship as a result. The mayor of DC has repeatedly told churches that they could continue to meet virtually.
“The ‘substantial burden inquiry asks whether the government has substantially burdened religious exercise … not whether [the Church] is able to engage in other forms of religious exercise,’” wrote Judge Trevor M. McFadden.
“The District may think that its proposed alternatives are sensible substitutes. And for many churches they may be. But ‘it is not for [the District] to say that [the Church’s] religious belief’ about the need to meet together as one corporal body ‘are mistaken or insubstantial.’”
Since June, Capitol Hill Baptist has met in a field adjacent to a fellow Baptist church in Virginia. As a result of the injunction, the church is making plans to move to outdoor venues in the District, where a majority of its members live.
Pastor Justin Sok reiterated the church’s beliefs in a statement released Saturday. “A church is not a building that can be opened or closed. A church is not an event to be watched,” he said. “A church is a community that gathers regularly, and we are thankful that such communities are once again being treated fairly by our government.”
Department of Justice officials and dozens of US Senators had backed Capitol Hill Baptist in the suit.
Jonathan Leeman, author of the book One Assembly, wrote for CT about how officials like the DC mayor should not be able to impose their definition of church on communities who believe otherwise.”