As churches across the nation have faced discriminatory treatment, Attorney General William Barr issued a statement today emphasizing that “the government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity” according to federal law.
AG Barr stated, “that 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.”
The Department of Justice also filed a Statement of Interest in support of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi. Local officers came to the parking lot of Temple Baptist Church during an outdoor worship service and issued $500 fines to everyone sitting in their cars. Temple Baptist members were staying in their vehicles with the windows rolled up to listen to Pastor Arthur Scott’s sermon on the radio. Church leaders had engineered a radio frequency where congregants could sit in their cars and listen as the pastor delivered the message from the pulpit. Then the city of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending in the parking lot while permitting other citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.
Barr stated, “As we explain in the Statement of Interest, where a state has not acted evenhandedly, it must have a compelling reason to impose restrictions on places of worship and must ensure that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance its compelling interest…The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “I am pleased to see Attorney General William Barr affirming the importance of the Constitution and standing against discriminatory treatment of churches. We have been raising this flag for several weeks. It is refreshing to have an Attorney General who respects the rule of law and the Constitution. Discriminatory treatment of churches and houses of worship must end.”