Catholic churches in Washington found to have stricter protocols than the government, with no recorded outbreaks.
In a case brought by the Archdiocese of Washington, a federal court has struck down pandemic limits to in-house worship. The previous limits only allowed for 25% capacity or 250 attendees, whichever was smaller. Now, churches can welcome as many faithful as can fit, provided they follow social distancing.
The decision came from Judge Trevor N. McFadden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The ruling was put into effect immediately so that the faithful could attend Holy Week services. Judge McFadden wrote:
“The District contends that its restrictions on houses of worship are lawful and indeed necessary to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the court acknowledges the District’s interest in stemming the spread of the virus, it finds that the archdiocese is entitled to relief.”
McFadden went on to note that the capacity limits were discriminatory towards the Church. He found that the restrictions were not tailored to “stem the tide of the virus,” but rather to ensure “parity” between churches and restaurants. He further noted that the archdiocese has stricter self-imposed restrictions than the government mandates. There has been no evidence of an outbreak due to archdiocesan activities.
According to a report from OSV, the Archdiocese of Washington hailed the decision. They noted that while they are eager to bring as many faithful back to church as they can, they would continue with their own pandemic precautions. In a statement, the archdiocese wrote:
“We are pleased with the court’s ruling that the District’s 25% (or) 250-person capacity limits on religious services are unconstitutional as applied to Catholic churches in the District of Columbia.” It continued, “In our Catholic churches, we will continue to abide by our own safety protocols of social distancing, masking, cleaning and other safety precautions to ensure safe access to worship while we also continue to broadcast our worship services online.”
The archdiocese has noted that families may sit in a group, provided they are distanced at least six feet from other groups. They encourage those who have not been vaccinated to continue to utilize virtual services. The archdiocese intends to continue airing Masses online for those who are still unable to attend in person or are not comfortable returning to church.