Justice Department sides with Virginia church in dispute over lockdown orders

  
Via:  texan1211  •  3 weeks ago  •  43 comments

By:   Melissa Quinn (MSN)

Justice Department sides with Virginia church in dispute over lockdown orders
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in support of Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague Island, Virginia.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Washington — The Justice Department is siding with a Virginia church challenging Governor Ralph Northam's executive orders limiting in-person gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, which the church says unfairly applies to houses of worship and other religious institutions.

© Steve Helber / AP Virus Outbreak Virginia

Federal prosecutors submitted the statement of interest in support of Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, on Sunday. The church filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging Northam's orders in federal court after its pastor received a citation and summons for holding a 16-person service in early April.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church maintains that its congregants followed social distancing guidelines in the 225-seat church and personal-hygiene protocols. The church argues the orders issued by Northam violate the First Amendment by improperly restricting religious gatherings at houses of worship while allowing comparable secular gatherings to continue unimpeded.

"The United States believes that the church has set forth a strong case that the orders, by exempting other activities permitting similar opportunities for in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals, while at the same time prohibiting churches from gathering in groups of more than 10 — even with social distancing measures and other precautions — has impermissibly interfered with the church's free exercise of religion," the Justice Department said in its filing.

"Unless the Commonwealth can prove that its disparate treatment of religious gatherings is justified by a compelling reason and is pursued through the least restrictive means, this disparate treatment violates the Free Exercise Clause, and the orders may not be enforced against the church," the department continued.

In its lawsuit, Lighthouse Fellowship Church argued that Northam's orders allow other businesses such as law or accounting firms to gather in groups of more than 10 as long as they follow social distancing measures. The church also noted large crowds at big-box retailers, as well as how social distancing guidelines have been successfully followed at Northam's own press conferences.

But on Friday, the court denied Lighthouse Fellowship Church's request to block enforcement of the orders. The church, which is represented by Liberty Counsel, appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Toby Heytens, Virginia's solicitor general, said in a filing Sunday the Justice Department and Lighthouse Fellowship "misconstrue the nature of Virginia's gathering ban in ways that materially impact their arguments."

"Not all executive orders issued to address the threat of COVID-19 are the same and those issued by Governor Northam do not operate in the manner plaintiff and the federal government describe," Heytens wrote.

The Justice Department's statement comes after Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors to keep watch for state and local directives that could infringe upon constitutional rights and civil liberties, including measures that may discriminate against religious institutions.

"If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court," Barr wrote.

The Justice Department last month filed a statement of interest in support of a Greenville, Mississippi, church that sued the town over its stay-at-home order.

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Texan1211
1  seeder  Texan1211    3 weeks ago

So it is okay for lawyers and accountants to gather, but not to worship?

Weird stuff!

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
1.1  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Texan1211 @1    3 weeks ago

I am not overly religious, but why can't people worship from their homes?  Why do they need a building to do it in? 

 
 
 
Texan1211
1.1.1  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @1.1    3 weeks ago

Why can't they simply hold services, adhering to social distancing rules?

Church services have been held inside churches for a very ling time now. Nothing preventing them from having services outside, but there shouldn;t be anything preventing them from holding services where they have always held them.

just common sense--if lawyers and accountants can gather in groups, why not church-goers?

 
 
 
Gordy327
1.1.2  Gordy327  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @1.1    3 weeks ago

[deleted]

 
 
 
Texan1211
1.1.3  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Gordy327 @1.1.2    3 weeks ago
Don't you know the steeple is actually an antenna to reach god. So people gave to gather in a church to reach god. "Testing, 1, 2, 3. Hi god, you there?" LOL

Inane crap is not appreciated.

[deleted]

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
1.1.4  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Texan1211 @1.1.1    3 weeks ago

Fair enough, but I think God just cares that you pray, not where you pray from.  Would they at least be willing to check temps and ask if anyone is having common symptoms?

 
 
 
Texan1211
1.1.5  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @1.1.4    3 weeks ago
Fair enough, but I think God just cares that you pray, not where you pray from.  

I haven't heard anyone disputing that.

Would they at least be willing to check temps and ask if anyone is having common symptoms?

Now, that is a good question. Perhaps the answer is yes, since they were practicing social distancing?

My point is why can lawyers and accountants gather together, but not church-goers?

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
1.1.6  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Texan1211 @1.1.5    3 weeks ago

I didn't even know that they were.

 
 
 
Texan1211
1.1.7  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @1.1.6    3 weeks ago
I didn't even know that they were.

From the article:

"Lighthouse Fellowship Church maintains that its congregants followed social distancing guidelines in the 225-seat church and personal-hygiene protocols. "
 
 
 
Split Personality
1.2  Split Personality  replied to  Texan1211 @1    3 weeks ago
So it is okay for lawyers and accountants to gather

You keep saying this, is there any proof that law offices or accounting firms are violating the in person limits on gatherings?

Most of the large Fort Worth and Dallas law firms I know of or deal with are working remotely, even though the existing  floor plans are well beyond the 6 foot limit.

 
 
 
Texan1211
1.2.1  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Split Personality @1.2    3 weeks ago
You keep saying this, is there any proof that law offices or accounting firms are violating the in person limits on gatherings?

I didn't claim they were violating the order. I am questioning a rule that allows some to meet in groups of more than 10 and not other groups to do the same.

Most of the large Fort Worth and Dallas law firms I know of or deal with are working remotely, even though the existing  floor plans are well beyond the 6 foot limit.

Texas and Virginia are two different states with their own rules and regulations.

 
 
 
Jasper2529
2  Jasper2529    3 weeks ago
after its pastor received a citation and summons for holding a 16-person service in early April. Lighthouse Fellowship Church maintains that its congregants followed social distancing guidelines in the 225-seat church and personal-hygiene protocols.

It seems logical that this large capacity church can easily seat 16 people and adhere to social distancing protocols.

 
 
 
Texan1211
2.1  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Jasper2529 @2    3 weeks ago
It seems logical that this large capacity church can easily seat 16 people and adhere to social distancing protocols.

Dang sure sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

So why exactly did they ban it?

 
 
 
Heartland American
2.1.1  Heartland American  replied to  Texan1211 @2.1    3 weeks ago

Because it is a church and secular progressive politicians are using the virus to engage in vindictive retribution against those they dislike.  

 
 
 
SteevieGee
2.2  SteevieGee  replied to  Jasper2529 @2    3 weeks ago

This pastor needs to write his congressman rather than ignoring the law.

 
 
 
Texan1211
2.2.1  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  SteevieGee @2.2    3 weeks ago
This pastor needs to write his congressman rather than ignoring the law.

The pastor's Congressman can not do a thing to help them. The court CAN, and hopefully, WILL.

Should be very interesting to hear the governor explain why lawyers and accountants can gather in larger groups, but churches can't hold services, even while enforcing social distancing policies.

 
 
 
SteevieGee
3  SteevieGee    3 weeks ago

The Justice Department is responsible for enforcing the laws and administration of justice.  It is NOT A COURT.  It should not be taking sides with anybody.

 
 
 
Texan1211
3.1  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  SteevieGee @3    3 weeks ago

The Justice Department is clearly within its bounds. Just because some may not like it doesn't matter.

The JD is interested in preserving the Constitutional rights of the church to hold services.

 
 
 
squiggy
3.2  squiggy  replied to  SteevieGee @3    3 weeks ago

Why wouldn't it side with the aggrieved? It should have left George Wallace alone - he was the law?

 
 
 
evilgenius
4  evilgenius    3 weeks ago

I predicted lawsuits when the stay at home orders started. Both the Right to Religion and the Right to Assemble were going to be challenged. I also think states, companies and people will be sued as well for negligent deaths before this is all over. Of course the GoP are working feverishly to block such law suits before they begin at the expense of the workers even though Trump thinks of himself as "The Workers' President". 

 
 
 
Gordy327
4.1  Gordy327  replied to  evilgenius @4    3 weeks ago

The Right to Assemble is fine. But this is an unusual circumstance given the covid crisis. So now it becomes a matter of public health and whether that should (temporarily) supercede the right. But a modicum of common sense should tell people that uneccesarily assembling right now is a bad idea. Of course, there are those who lack common sense.

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.1  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Gordy327 @4.1    3 weeks ago
But a modicum of common sense should tell people that uneccesarily assembling right now is a bad idea. Of course, there are those who lack common sense.

Lack common sense? Like the lawyers and accountants who are allowed to gather?

Why them and not church-goers?

 
 
 
Gordy327
4.1.2  Gordy327  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.1    3 weeks ago

Lack of common sense or just plain stupidity. All of them!

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
4.1.3  Freedom Warrior  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.1    3 weeks ago

Everyone has to right to social distance.  No one is stopping them

However, they don't have the right to trample upon our Constitutional rights.

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.4  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Gordy327 @4.1.2    3 weeks ago

Have you gone to the store since this started?

Bought anything at all from a Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Home Depot, Lowe's. etc.?

 
 
 
evilgenius
4.1.5  evilgenius  replied to  Gordy327 @4.1    3 weeks ago

Oh, I agree. Common sense would tell us that taking some basic precautions until such a time as comprehensive treatment can be implemented would be the smart play, but we all know some less than stellar intellects.

 
 
 
Gordy327
4.1.6  Gordy327  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.4    3 weeks ago

No to all. Only to a local grocery. 

 
 
 
Gordy327
4.1.7  Gordy327  replied to  evilgenius @4.1.5    3 weeks ago

Indeed. You can tell when they start reacting emotionally rather than rationally.

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.8  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Gordy327 @4.1.6    3 weeks ago

Can you explain the common sense in preventing churches from meeting, but allowing lawyers and accountants to?

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.9  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Gordy327 @4.1.6    3 weeks ago
No to all. Only to a local grocery. 

Did they allow you to enter the store?

 
 
 
evilgenius
4.1.10  evilgenius  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.8    3 weeks ago
but allowing lawyers and accountants to?

I'd like to know which lawyers and accountants are meeting in groups?

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.11  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  evilgenius @4.1.10    3 weeks ago
I'd like to know which lawyers and accountants are meeting in groups?

If they are not meeting, then why the permission to meet in groups of more than 10?

The permission ONLY makes sense if they are meeting.

"In its lawsuit, Lighthouse Fellowship Church argued that Northam's orders allow other businesses such as law or accounting firms to gather in groups of more than 10 as long as they follow social distancing measures. The church also noted large crowds at big-box retailers, as well as how social distancing guidelines have been successfully followed at Northam's own press conferences."

 
 
 
Split Personality
4.1.12  Split Personality  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.11    3 weeks ago
Lighthouse Fellowship Church argued that Northam's orders allow other businesses such as law or accounting firms to gather in groups of more than 10 as long as they follow social distancing measures.

Just asking for a friend,

Do you consider a church to be a business as that sentence implies?  And there is no proof of other gatherings of any sort except....

The church also noted large crowds at big-box retailers, as well as how social distancing guidelines have been successfully followed at Northam's own press conferences."

Agreed. We could not get near Home Depot or Lowes yesterday - parking lots were filled and the lines were hundreds of yards long  - spaced out approx 6 feet.

Ultimately the case boils down to the Fed's and States authority to declare a state of emergency without resorting to martial law.

Barr should be ultra careful wheres States Rights are concerned.

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.13  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  Split Personality @4.1.12    3 weeks ago
Do you consider a church to be a business as that sentence implies?  And there is no proof of other gatherings of any sort except....

No, I don;t consider churches to be businesses. I don't think I implied it, either. What is the purpose of the carve-out for those groups and not churches?

Barr should be ultra careful wheres States Rights are concerned.

I think Governors should be extra careful as to not trample on Constitutional rights.

 
 
 
evilgenius
4.1.14  evilgenius  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.11    3 weeks ago
If they are not meeting, then why the permission to meet in groups of more than 10?
The permission ONLY makes sense if they are meeting.

There are a lot of things that don't make sense. The question should be addressed to whomever wrote that rule, which I'm assuming the lawsuit does.

 
 
 
Heartland American
4.1.15  Heartland American  replied to  Split Personality @4.1.12    3 weeks ago

Individual rights protected by the Bill of Rights in the constitution trumps states rights in any event per the 14th amendment applying the bill of rights to the states 

 
 
 
Texan1211
4.1.16  seeder  Texan1211  replied to  evilgenius @4.1.14    3 weeks ago
There are a lot of things that don't make sense. The question should be addressed to whomever wrote that rule, which I'm assuming the lawsuit does.

I Imagine the church doesn't care as long as they are allowed to meet while following social distancing rules.

 
 
 
Split Personality
4.1.17  Split Personality  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.13    3 weeks ago

A slippery slope. The POTUS declared a National State of emergency in which he can suspend anything he wants including our C rights.

If churches aren't businesses then they should not be making that comparison.

I think Governors should be extra careful as to not trample on Constitutional rights.

Yes, they should.  They also have a charge of responsibility for the safety of ALL of  their citizens,

not just the religious ones. 

Especially after the President tossed them the ball and challenged them to handle things.

 
 
 
evilgenius
4.1.18  evilgenius  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.16    3 weeks ago

It will be interesting to see what the Court of Appeals has to say.

 
 
 
Gordy327
4.1.19  Gordy327  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.8    3 weeks ago

There is none. I'm not sure what circumstances would require a gathering.  But any meeting can be accomplished via phone or zoom.

 
 
 
Gordy327
4.1.20  Gordy327  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.9    3 weeks ago

Yes

 
 
 
Baron Creek
5  Baron Creek    3 weeks ago
by exempting other activities permitting similar opportunities for in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals, while at the same time prohibiting churches from gathering in groups of more than 10

It appears the governor had allowed some gatherings over 10, but specfied no churches... which is obviously wrong.  The governor should not have made any exemptions over 10.

 
 
 
Tacos!
6  Tacos!    3 weeks ago

Constitutionally, any restriction on religious practice should be narrowly focused and the least restrictive means to achieving a compelling government interest. Simply saying people can’t go to church does seem too broad if the social distancing required of everyone else is being adhered to.

 
 
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