DOJ sides with church suing Virginia Gov. Northam after pastor who held 16-person service faced fine, jail

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The Justice Department is siding with a Virginia church suing Gov. Ralph Northam after police threatened a pastor with jail time or a $2,500 fine for violating the state’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions by holding a 16-person church service on Palm Sunday.

The DOJ decision came after police in protective garb served a summons to Kevin Wilson, the pastor of Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island, for holding the service on April 5 with 16 people spaced far apart from one another in a church that could fit 293 people. State officials said Wilson and the church violated the Virginia Constitution by breaking state-imposed social distancing restrictions intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“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 DOJ said in a statement of interest obtained by Fox News on Sunday.

Mat Staver, the chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, representing the pastor, accused Northam, a Democrat, of discriminating against the church and violating the First Amendment.

“As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important for states to remember that we do not abandon all of our freedoms in times of emergency,” Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement. “Unlawful discrimination against people who exercise their right to religion violates the First Amendment, whether we are in a pandemic or not.” – READ MORE

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