Donald Trump has packed his boys club with several strong men. One man cares only interested in squeezing many unqualified ultra-conservative judges into the courts, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Add POTUS’s Attorney General William Barr to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ), and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for an explosive cocktail. So who will protect the Americans?
The DOJ filed a Statement of Interest regarding a case in the Virginia federal courts. The Lighthouse Fellowship Church (Lighthouse) disobeyed shelter-in-place rules. The church’s congregation has been made up of many “recovering drug addicts and former prostitutes.”
Attorney General Barr referred to Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam (D) when he filed, stating that the executive orders banning in-person religious services of over 10 people ran up to The Constitution’s freedom of religion right.
The Chincoteague police department issued the minister a criminal citation and summons. Lighthouse filed suit on Friday, but the district court denied the “request for filed a Preliminary Response.” Dreiband serves in the Civil Rights Division.
Barr directed the Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider to review these policies.
Lighthouse had 16 people in its gathering of attorneys, which was held in its conference room. The church claimed its “constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion.”
According to the DOJ, the governor’s ban included:
‘[G]atherings of workers in any non-retail business and an array of retail businesses, including liquor stores, dry cleaners and department stores. Violations of the orders allow for criminal charges and carry penalties of up to a year in a jail and a $2,500 fine.’
In his Preliminary Response, Drieband said:
‘For many people of faith, exercising religion is essential, especially during a crisis. The Commonwealth of Virginia has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and other workers to do the same. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to monitor any infringement of the Constitution and other civil liberties, and we will take additional appropriate action if and when necessary.’
‘As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important for states to remember that we do not abandon all of our freedoms in times of emergency,” said Matthew Schneider, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who, with Assistant Attorney General Dreiband, is overseeing the Justice Department’s effort to monitor state and local polices relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unlawful discrimination against people who exercise their right to religion violates the First Amendment, whether we are in a pandemic or not.”’
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern Division of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger stated:
‘The Commonwealth cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings. As we stated in our filing, we do not take a position in this Statement on the advisability of in-person gatherings. Indeed, the proper response to the COVID-19 pandemic will vary over time, and will depend on facts on the ground.’
In the Statement of Interest, the Trump administration indicated that governments should clamp down to meet “genuine emergencies:”
‘But, there is no pandemic exception to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.’
Barr has sided with the Lighthouse Church’s lawsuit against Northam due to his restriction of keeping meeting under 10 people during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunday, the DOJ attorneys filed their Statement of Interest in support of the Lighthouse refusal to obey the restrictions. They pointed to the executive order exception of “liquor stores and law offices, to hold gatherings with more than 10 people.” The filing read:
‘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 DOJ added:
‘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.’
U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Allen denied the church‘s request for “a Preliminary Injunction and a temporary restraining order:”
Allen said in her ruling that an exception to the 10-person gathering did not apply, because the church had not explained why they could not keep the meetings to 10 people:
‘[It[ is essential to prevent joblessness at a time when people desperately need to retain their incomes and healthcare, and at a time when unemployment is drastically rising.’
The church appealed the case to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA. It asked that the governor’s order be “temporarily blocked” while the appeal was being considered.
Barr had already ordered his attorneys to “be on the lookout” for any state orders that stepped on the toes of religion, “speech, and economic rights.”
The Mueller Report Adventures: In Bite-Sizes on this Facebook page. These quick, two-minute reads interpret the report in normal English for busy people. Mueller Bite-Sizes uncovers what is essentially a compelling spy mystery. Interestingly enough, Mueller Bite-Sizes can be read in any order.