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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, May 22, 2020

U.S. Attorney and DOJ Civil Rights Provide Update on COVID-19 Related Religious Liberties Case

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – United States Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger and Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division today announced an update on the status of the Department of Justice’s efforts to protect religious liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting a lawsuit brought in federal district court by Lighthouse Fellowship Church, a congregation in Chincoteague Island, Virginia that serves, among others, recovering drug addicts and former prostitutes. 

On May 3, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest supporting Lighthouse Fellowship Church’s emergency request for an injunction pending appeal of the district court’s ruling of May 1, which denied Lighthouse Fellowship Church’s emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Yesterday, the district court denied the church’s request for an injunction pending appeal. Lighthouse Fellowship Church previously appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit the district court’s denial of its emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The Department of Justice is assessing its options with regard to participating in that appeal.

“Our First Amendment right to freely exercise religion does not disappear during a pandemic,” said Terwilliger. “Public safety is critical while COVID-19 remains with us, but we must also preserve our fundamental liberties.”

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of all people in our country to exercise their religion freely and without undue restrictions imposed by government,” said Dreiband. “As President Trump again reminded us earlier today, houses of worship are essential to people of faith, and those people include the recovering drug addicts and former prostitutes who allege that the Commonwealth of Virginia is unlawfully denying their ability to exercise right religion.”

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER.

Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Civil Rights
Contact: 
Joshua Stueve Director of Public Affairs joshua.stueve@usdoj.gov
Updated May 22, 2020