Barr Assures Faith Leaders Admin Will Shield Them from Being “Singled Out” By State, Local Lockdowns

Friday Tessa Berenson of Time tweeted:

AG Barr spoke to faith leaders today. According to a source on the call, Barr said some states are singling out religion in restrictions, using MS as an example. He said he’s talking to US attorneys around the country to look at other cases

National Review reports during a White House conference call with more than 500 faith leaders on Thursday, Attorney General William Barr assured the participating priests, rabbis, and ministers that the administration is on guard against overzealous state governments intent on “singling out” religious groups with punitive coronavirus lockdown measures.

Barr, who spoke for roughly ten minutes, told the religious leaders that, while “Draconian measures” were initially necessary to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the administration is now working to ensure that those measures are not extended unnecessarily, and will be particularly aggressive in combating efforts to apply them disproportionally to religious organizations.

“Standing up for liberty is one of our highest priorities, my highest priorities,” Barr said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided to National Review by a participant on the call. When reached for comment, the Department of Justice confirmed the participant’s description of the call.

The attorney general cited his intervention in the case of a Mississippi church as an example of legal action the administration will take to shield religious groups from being targeted by overzealous state and local authorities.

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest last week in a lawsuit brought against the local police department by the Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss. Church officials claim that police officers were dispatched to their April 8 drive-in service and began “knocking on car windows, demanding drivers’ licenses and writing citations with $500 fines.”

The service was held one day after the city banned all drive-in events, in a move that seemed to violate the state’s designation of religious services as “essential” so long as they complied with Center for Disease Control social distancing guidelines.

“So this was a case of singling out a religious community,” Barr said.

A number of other states, including North Carolina and Indiana, have joined Mississippi in deeming religious services “essential,” provided they adhere to social distancing guidelines that are in some cases stricter than those applied to other essential businesses, such as grocery stores. Both states have limited the number of congregants to ten or fewer and in Indiana, the Eucharist must be “pre-packaged” if it is to be distributed at all.