The nation’s governors have banned mass gatherings to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and the Justice Department is on the case! Not to give them the support they need to keep Americans safe. Don’t be silly, Donald Trump has been very clear that the federal government isn’t a “shipping clerk” for the states. No, the DOJ is busy threatening any state or municipality which might infringe on the sacred right of Christians to assemble during a pandemic.
“AG Barr is monitoring govt regulation of religious services,” tweeted Department spokeswoman Kerry Kupec, who came to the DOJ from Alliance Demanding Freedom, where she spent her days attacking laws that protect trans kids because, “Big business shouldn’t be advocating for boys to share the girls’ locker rooms and showers — and vice versa — in our public schools.”
Ain’t she a peach!
“Expect action from DOJ next week!” Kupec promises vaguely, warning that Big Brother Barr is keeping an eye on those pesky states. Which is entirely consonant with Barr’s recent ramblings to Laura Ingraham that, “A free society depends on a vibrant religious life by the people, so any time that’s encroached upon by the government, I’m very, very concerned.” But not entirely consonant with facts or law.
Because here on Planet Earth, no one is “singl[ing] out religious orgs” for persecution. Kansas’s Governor Laura Kelly actually removed an exemption for churches from the ban on mass gatherings, and had to sue the legislature to enforce it. The difference between cars parked at the grocery store and cars parked in a church parking lot during a stay-at-home order is obvious to anyone but a 38-year-old wingnut judge in Kentucky auditioning for a spot on the Supreme Court. And curtailing the spread of contagion by barring large assemblies is a reasonably well-tailored measure to advance a “compelling governmental interest,” such that it clearly satisfies the strict scrutiny requirement for laws affecting religion.
“A Justice official” was duly dispatched to CNN to clean up Kupec’s tweet.
A Justice official said Barr is examining multiple instances around the country, not just the case of Louisville’s, where it appears religious institutions may have been singled out in Covid-19-related public gathering restrictions.
Government can legally limit assemblies, including religious gatherings, to protect health and safety, the official said. But the government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not apply to similar nonreligious activity.
If a municipality imposes fewer or no restrictions on movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls and other comparable places of assembly, it may not order houses of worship to close or limit their congregation size, according to the official.
Ah, yes. In the very real town of Thatneverhappenedville, BS, the evil Democratic mayor has allowed the local multiplex to remain open, but arrested the pastor and his wholesome, cornfed family for assembling to honor the Lord. You bet!
The Department’s Voting Section appears to have done exactly nothing in three years besides issue mandatory reports to congress. But for spurious efforts to protect “religious freedom” to spread disease during a pandemic, Uncle Bill’s got all the time in the world.
DOJ says to ‘expect action’ next week on social distancing regulation and religious services [CNN]
Elizabeth Dye (@5DollarFeminist) lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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