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Court Sides With DC Church on Worship Services for More Than 100 People

The District’s prohibition on indoor or outdoor services larger than 100 people likely violates religious liberty, a judge decided

A D.C. court has issued a temporary injunction Friday that will allow a church to hold outdoor services with more congregants than are allowed under the District’s phase two reopening rules.

The 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist Church praised the decision as restoring equity.

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“We trust that this will be a blessing not only to our congregation but to the rest of our neighbors in D.C.,” Pastor Justin Sok said in a statement.

D.C.'s rules currently limit indoor and outdoor worship services to half-capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Violations are subject to fines.

The Capitol Hill Baptist Church has been meeting outdoors in Virginia and doesn’t offer online services. Leaders say many congregants live in D.C. and don’t have cars.

Montgomery County eased some restrictions on attending religious services in person. It comes just in time for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. News4's Derrick Ward reports how synagogues and churches are adjusting to a new way of worship.

“A church is a community that gathers regularly and we are thankful that such communities are once again being treated fairly by our government,” Sok said.

The church sued in September after D.C. denied a waiver that would allow outdoor services larger than 100 people with mask requirements and a six-foot social distance between households, according to court documents.

The court granted the church temporary permission to meet, saying the District’s prohibition on services larger than 100 people likely violates religious liberty.

The Catholic Church is facing a growing political divide. With the recent nomination of a Catholic to the Supreme Court, the fault lines on issues like abortion, climate change and immigration are clear. News4's Cory Smith shows how the friction is threatening relationships among family and friends.

The court also considered Mayor Muriel Bowser’s supportive stance toward racial justice protests that erupted over the summer, drawing hundreds or thousands to the streets.

Supporting some mass gatherings undermined the District’s argument that it had a compelling reason to cap the number of attendees at the church’s outdoor services, Judge Trevor N. McFadden said.

The church is looking for a space to hold outdoor services in the District, Sok said.

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