True to his word to police any violations of constitutional rights in the name of coronavirus policy, Attorney General Bill Barr and the Department of Justice are siding with Kevin Wilson, pastor of Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island, Virginia.
On April 5, police entered the church and informed the pastor that they were violating Gov. Ralph “Blackface” Northam’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. Pastor Wilson is being threatened with jail time or a fine of up to $2500. But the DOJ issued a legal filing defending the church, arguing that the church is likely to win its case, that its rights have been violated and that Virginia discriminated against churches in its lockdown order. It points out that the church was following social distancing guidelines (it holds 293 people, and there were only 16 present) and that Virginia cannot ban church services while allowing exceptions for secular organizations, such as non-retail businesses.
There are full details of the case at that link, along with the important point by the DOJ that this case has national significance because “the United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of its citizens’ fundamental right to the free exercise of religion, expressly protected by the First Amendment.” It explained that states may have the power to ban gatherings during a health emergency, but they don’t have the power to impose a higher standard on churches than they do on other organizations.
The legal filing also includes the admonition that “there is no pandemic exception to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.” Please let me know if anyone starts a GoFundMe to have that put on plaques and delivered to Democratic Governors and Mayors around the country, and I’ll happily kick in a few bucks.