The Department of Justice is throwing its support behind a federal lawsuit filed by worshippers in Mississippi who were fined $500 each for attending a church service while sitting in their cars “with their windows rolled up.” In a legal filing, the Justice Department said the government is not permitted to “impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity” amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Baptist Temple Church filed a complaint last week accusing the police of trying to “bust up” the congregation. The DOJ’S “statement of interest” argues that the allegations in the complaint “strongly suggest that the city’s actions target religious conduct.”
“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Attorney General William Barr wrote writes, referring to social distancing guidelines in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. The attorney general said that religious activity cannot be singled out if the same restrictions are not applied to “nonreligious activity,” which he said refers to movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, among others.