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Thu May 21, 2020, 11:28 PM

Federal judge rules against church, backed by Justice Dept., that sued over restrictions on large ga

Source: Washington Post

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10:39 p.m.

Federal judge rules against church, backed by Justice Dept., that sued over restrictions on large gatherings

A federal judge ruled Thursday against a Christian church, whose pastor was charged with violating Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s prohibition on large gatherings after holding a Palm Sunday service last month, in a First Amendment-based bid to stop the governor’s order. The Justice Department had filed a “statement of interest” supporting the church, saying its religious rights were violated by the governor.

It was the second rejection of the suit filed by the Lighthouse Fellowship Church. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in Norfolk denied an emergency request for a temporary restraining order against Northam (D) on May 5 and on Thursday rejected a request for an injunction pending appeal of her ruling. Wright noted the governor is immune from such a suit unless he is involved in enforcing such orders, and also that federal courts should not intervene when a state proceeding — in this case, the criminal charge against pastor Kevin Wilson — is pending.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church is in Accomack County, which the Virginia attorney general’s office noted has the third-highest rate of coronavirus cases in Virginia. County officials sought and received an exemption from Northam’s first phase of reopening the state.

“Although the existence of a pandemic might be considered extraordinary,” Allen wrote, “it does not call for federal intervention in state proceedings. If anything, the once-in-a-century nature of a pandemic strengthens the important state interests that counsel against federal intervention.”

The small congregation said in its lawsuit that it had maintained social distancing on Palm Sunday and had only 16 worshipers, in a space with capacity of 225 people, when its pastor was cited. The suit noted that businesses were allowed to have more than 10 people if proper precautions were taken.

By Tom Jackman

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/21/coronavirus-update-us/#link-P3B73O2HWVCUZK7NI75U6DN6QY

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