The Justice Department’s effort to prove that actually, Christians are a persecuted minority, targeted for their faith by evil Democratic governors, continues apace.
“We are going to keep an eye on all these actions that restrict people’s liberty,” Bill Barr told Fox’s Laura Ingraham last month, in a wide-ranging interview during which the nation’s top lawyer opined that the media was on a “jihad” against supposed miracle drug hydroxychloroquine. (How’d that one work out again?)
DOJ spox Kerri Kupec promised that the Department would prioritize the First Amendment right of all Americans to assemble in holy contagion as tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen are dying of disease.
And apparently they meant it, since the Justice Department has now waded into multiple cases where the state government failed to grant a special carve-out in the stay-at-home order for religious assembly. Which, in the DOJ’s telling, is exactly the same as targeting religious people for discrimination.
How can governors let heathens spend five minutes picking up beer at the Liquor Mart if they won’t allow unlimited numbers of the faithful to assemble for hours on end in close proximity? Clearly this bespeaks a hostility toward religion, rather than a zeal to protect public health!
This has been the Department’s position in motions supporting the right of persecuted churches in Kentucky and Kansas to assemble despite statewide stay at home orders. By amazing coincidence, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and Kansas Governor Laura Kelly are both Democrats, and so is Ralph Northam in Virginia, the site of this week’s entry into the grievance sweepstakes. All three of these states have Senate seats up this cycle, and inventing a war on religion by Democratic governors might well gin up the faithful to vote red in November.
So yesterday, the DOJ filed a motion in support of the Lighthouse Fellowship Church of Chincoteague, Virginia, whose pastor was criminally cited on April 5 for holding an in-person service for 16 people. In a May 1 denial of the plaintiff’s request for a TRO, U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen noted that the church could have adapted its worship through electronic means, or even by holding two in-person services, splitting its 16-strong throng of parishioners in half to abide by the 10-person limit:
Plaintiff faces the choice between adapting to current circumstances by utilizing a combination of small group worship services multiple times per day and week, broadcasting worship services on its Facebook page, sending emails to members, calling members, making house visits to members, and mailing communications to members, or risking arrest by inflexibly continuing on with its usual modes of religious worship. Although this may not be how Plaintiff wishes to practice its religion under ideal circumstances, these are not ideal circumstances. The equities, in the context of a deadly pandemic, tip in Defendant’s favor.
But according to the DOJ, Judge Allen “erred” in refusing to allow the Plaintiffs to argue their case before denying the TRO. Although the brief cautions that “the United States does not take a position on the ultimate question of whether the Commonwealth may have a legally sufficient justification for treating Plaintiff differently from non-retail businesses or other permitted assemblies that may be comparable,” it urges the court to force Virginia to “demonstrate that it has compelling reasons to treat Plaintiff differently than similar non-religious businesses, and that it has pursued its objectives through the least restrictive means.”
Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens filed a response last night, in which he also demanded time to brief the court. Not only to demonstrate the falsehood of the Plaintiff’s claim that Governor Northam’s order “exempts all non-retail businesses, including professional services, from the mass gathering limit,” but also assert the state’s claim to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity from federal suit, lest it be waived before the case reaches the Fourth Circuit on appeal.
So, to recap, the Justice Department isn’t saying that Governor Northam hates Christians. But it’s not NOT saying it, either. And if that Obama judge knows what’s good for her, she’ll go back and rectify the situation STAT.
States rights for me, but not for thee ….
THE UNITED STATES’ STATEMENT OF INTEREST IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR AN INJUNCTION PENDING APPEAL [Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam, No. 2:20-cv-00204-AWA-RJK (E.D.V.A. May 3, 2020)]
ORDER [Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam, No. 2:20-cv-00204-AWA-RJK (E.D.V.A. May 3, 2020)]
DEFENDANT’S NOTICE OF INTENT TO FILE RESPONSE TO PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR INJUNCTION PENDING APPEAL AND UNITED STATES’ STATEMENT OF INTEREST [Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam, No. 2:20-cv-00204-AWA-RJK (E.D.V.A. May 3, 2020)]
Elizabeth Dye (@5DollarFeminist) lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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