Via press release from the Justice Department:
The Department of Justice today filed a Statement of Interest in a Virginia federal court concerning the First Amendment’s freedom of religion in support of Lighthouse Fellowship Church (Lighthouse), a congregation in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, that serves, among others, recovering drug addicts and former prostitutes.
The Statement of Interest is 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.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia’s governor issued executive orders that ban in-person religious services of more than 10 people while permitting such gatherings of workers in any non-retail business and an array of retail businesses, including liquor stores, dry cleaners and department stores.
Violations of the orders allow for criminal charges and carry penalties of up to a year in a jail and a $2,500 fine. “For many people of faith, exercising religion is essential, especially during a crisis,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and other workers to do the same. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to monitor any infringement of the Constitution and other civil liberties, and we will take additional appropriate action if and when necessary.”