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DC Quotes Pope Francis To Justify Worship Restrictions In Federal Court Fight With Catholic Churches

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter
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  • The District of Columbia quoted Pope Francis in a legal filing to justify its restrictions on houses of worship following the Catholic Church’s lawsuit accusing the city of “discriminatory” coronavirus restrictions.
  • The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington had requested an injunction allowing “sufficient time before Christmas Eve to allow the Archdiocese to plan and celebrate Mass with percentage-based limits rather than a 50-person cap.”
  • The first two paragraphs of the city’s reply quote the Holy Father saying that “some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!”

The District of Columbia quoted Pope Francis in justifying its restrictions on houses of worship following the Catholic Church’s lawsuit accusing the city of “discriminatory” COVID restrictions.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington said in a lawsuit filed Dec. 11 that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s restrictions on houses of worship “bear no relation to either the size of the building or the safety of the activity” and “single out religious worship as a disfavored activity, even though it has been proven safer than many other activities the District favors.” (RELATED: DC Archbishop Sues Mayor Muriel Bowser For ‘Arbitrary, Unscientific And Discriminatory’ Restrictions Ahead Of Christmas)

Following the lawsuit, Bowser modified the city’s attendance limits in a Wednesday order, removing the 50-person limit for religious gatherings and instead capping places of worship at 25% capacity with a maximum of 250 people. The modified order still discourages large gatherings and warns that those who attend large gatherings are putting themselves at risk.

D.C. also submitted a Thursday reply to the lawsuit in which the city justified its actions, saying that “COVID-19 has required everyone to be flexible,” and noting that Pope Francis recently canceled a Christmas ceremony in Rome due to the pandemic.

The first two paragraphs of the city’s reply quote Pope Francis’ November New York Times op-ed where he wrote: “[M]ost governments [have] acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak. Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!”

This is one of several high profile religious freedom disputes that have come to a head during the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers across the United States have issued orders restricting or prohibiting religious services. The Department of Justice and Attorney General William Barr have repeatedly fought against such restrictions, warning that  “even in times of emergency,” federal law prohibits religious discrimination.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington had requested an injunction allowing “sufficient time before Christmas Eve to allow the Archdiocese to plan and celebrate Mass with percentage-based limits rather than a 50-person cap.”

“Under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the District’s arbitrary, unscientific, and discriminatory treatment of religious worship is illegal,” the lawsuit said(RELATED: Mental Health Improved For Only One Group During COVID — And Dems Did Everything They Could To Suppress It)

Members of the clergy arrive to celebrate an Easter Sunday mass in front of empty pews at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC on April 12, 2020 as the Basilica remained closed to the public due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. ( HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

“As Christmas fast approaches, the District has imposed arbitrary 50-person caps on Mass attendance—even for masked, socially-distant services, and even when those services are held in churches that can in normal times host over a thousand people,” the lawsuit said, noting that the District imposed capacity-based limits on libraries, laundromats, retail stores, fitness centers and other establishments.

The lawsuit also said that half of the Archdiocese of Washington’s churches can accommodate 500 or more worshippers. St. Matthew’s Cathedral fits over 1,000 worshippers and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is the largest Catholic Church in the United States, can hold thousands of the faithful, according to the lawsuit.

Neither Bowser’s office nor the Archdiocese of Washington responded to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation for this story.

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