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Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric S. Dreiband, issued the following statement:

“(Tuesday’s) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis and other recent decisions make abundantly clear that religious liberty is not a second-class right. There is no pandemic exception to the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights. This should be obvious to public officials because the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution make it illegal for any government in this country to make any law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. Colorado’s decision to treat religion and houses of worship less favorably than marijuana dispensaries, laundromats, and other nonreligious activities is illegal and suggests a lack of respect or understanding about our Constitution. When states ease COVID-19 restrictions for other fundamental rights or economic activities, they must extend at least the same treatment to places of worship. The Constitution demands no less.”

The United States filed a Statement of Interest supporting the church in the case, High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis, on May 29, 2020. The federal District Court for Colorado had denied an injunction on Aug. 10, 2020 to the church, High Plains Harvest Church, and the federal Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit had upheld that rsuling. The U.S. Supreme Court decision nullified those decisions and called on the Court of Appeals to reconsider the case in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on November 25 in Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, which held that New York’s restrictions of places of worship to 10 or 25 people depending on the zone violated the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.

The department’s press release on its previous statement of interest in this case can be found here:  https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-files-statement-interest-support-freedom-religion-colorado-church

The United States’ Statement of Interest was part of Attorney General William P. Barr’s April 27, 2020 initiative directing Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Author: Jacob Hall