Sen. Josh Hawley sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr Tuesday calling for a civil rights investigation, alleging a constitutional violation of the First Amendment regarding restricting religious gatherings.
The Missouri senator argued that, as the government has failed to enforce social distancing guidelines at the recent protests, it cannot single out religious gatherings.
Hawley encouraged Barr to conduct the investigation into violations by state officials who are still, given the recent mass gatherings, restricting religious gatherings. He wrote that giving preference to one form of speech or gathering over another violates the First Amendment.
“State officials have determined that the message behind the current protests is worth saying. But state officials cannot block religious speech while allowing protests simply because the states think the protest speech is more valuable,” Hawley wrote.
This comes after months of restricted religious gatherings across the nation. In a White House press briefing May 22, President Trump urged states to allow citizens to attend religious services in person.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend,” he said.
After the CDC released non-binding guidelines for places of worship to follow in the case they reopen, they still encouraged those places to comply with state authorities. And while some states such as Florida have lead the way in opening back up, certain states are still prohibiting gatherings.
Hawley thanked Barr for his involvement in ensuring religious rights are upheld, including the May 19 letter Barr wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom on allowing the reopening of religious services. California still has considerable restrictions that the Supreme Court upheld in a 5-4 vote May 30. This type of restriction during unregulated protests, Hawley wrote, is wrong.
“Many jurisdictions across the nation are imposing extraordinarily strict caps on religious gatherings—such as restricting religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people—even as those jurisdictions allow thousands of people to gather closely in protests,” he said. “States cannot allow one but prohibit the other.”