Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley on Thursday called on the Department of Justice to file a suit in defense of Americans’ religious liberty as coronavirus restrictions on worship continue.
“The American people have endured six months of closures and restrictions on their houses of worship,” Hawley wrote in a letter to Attorney General William Barr.
“Over that period, they have faced countless harms: missed holidays and religious celebrations, canceled weddings, and unattended funerals, to say nothing of the painful absence of regular worship.”
“These continued violations of the First Amendment are outrageous,” he continued.
“I ask that the Department file suit against these jurisdictions and others to uphold Americans’ rights.”
The senator also emphasized that many states allow restaurants and gyms to operate at 50 percent capacity while continuing to limit attendance at places of worship.
“In San Francisco, California, for example, churches continue to be under orders limiting religious services to twelve people, and only if done outdoors, while gyms have been allowed to let patrons inside,” Hawley said.
“In many parts of Washington State, churches are subject to a specially burdensome 25 percent capacity limitation, while restaurants and other businesses are allowed up to 50 percent of capacity.”
Hawley similarly asked the Justice Department in June to launch a “full civil rights investigation” into violations of “free exercise and free speech rights of religious Americans,” arguing that state officials have favored protests while targeting religious gatherings.
“Under the First Amendment, state officials must not treat religious persons and groups worse than others, and they must not favor one kind of speech over another,” Hawley wrote in June.
“State officials have violated the free speech and free exercise rights of religious Americans by treating religious gatherings and speech differently than the speech and mass gatherings of protests.”
The Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation, has pushed back against restrictions on religious liberty during the coronavirus pandemic.
Barr said in an April statement that “even in times of emergency,” federal law prohibits religious discrimination.
Barr also promised that the Trump administration would be watching for any state or local government that “singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”
Since that statement was issued, the Justice Department has intervened in multiple cases of government crackdowns on churches, including in Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia and Mississippi.
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