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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.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Sep 16, 2020 - Health

Exclusive: First full at-home COVID-19 test

The Gauss/Cellex rapid at-home COVID-19 test. Credit: Gauss

Gauss, a computer vision startup, and Cellex, a biotech company that works on diagnostics, are announcing the first rapid COVID-19 test that can be fully performed by people at home without involving a laboratory.

Why it matters: Experts agree that the U.S. still needs far more widespread testing to help contain the coronavirus pandemic. An antigen test that could be performed and provide results rapidly at home could help reduce testing delays and allow people to quickly find out whether they need to isolate because of a COVID-19 infection.

Coronavirus cases increase in 17 states

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

Coronavirus infections ticked up slightly over the past week, thanks to scattered outbreaks in every region of the country.

Where it stands: The U.S. has been making halting, uneven progress against the virus since August. Overall, we're moving in the right direction, but we're often taking two steps forward and one step back.

Updated Sep 16, 2020 - Health

Top HHS spokesperson takes leave of absence after accusing scientists of "sedition"

Michael Caputo in Washington, D.C. in May 2018. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a 60 day leave of absence "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family," the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Caputo baselessly accused career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Facebook livestream on Sunday of gathering a "resistance unit" for "sedition" against President Trump, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. He apologized to staff on Tuesday, according to Politico.