Jun 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Josh Hawley requests civil rights probe into coronavirus church restrictions

Josh Hawley.

Sen. Josh Hawley. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr on Tuesday asking for a civil rights investigation into jurisdictions that have forced churches to remain closed or to operate at limited capacity.

The big picture: Hawley argued that states "have violated the free speech and free exercise rights of religious Americans" by putting caps on church gatherings while allowing the protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd to continue.

  • He acknowledged that Americans have the right to peaceably protest and that millions are rightfully angry about George Floyd's death, but added, "States cannot allow one but prohibit the other."

What he's saying: Hawley pointed to a Supreme Court decision in late May, which allowed California to place restrictions on worship services on the basis that they were not being treated worse than comparable secular businesses.

  • "Now, after two weeks of nationwide protests, no uncertainty remains. 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. States cannot allow one but prohibit the other."
  • "These actions also violate free speech. The First Amendment prohibits state officials from banning meetings based on the ideas that will be expressed. 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."

The bottom line: "I urge you to remain engaged, open a full civil rights investigation, and bring whatever lawsuits are necessary to secure the First Amendment rights of all Americans," Hawley said.

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