RICHMOND, Va. -- Attorneys for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam say an attempt by a Virginia church to prevent the state from barring gatherings of more than 10 people “would seriously undermine” the state’s efforts to deter the spread of the coronavirus.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s office made the arguments in a memo filed in response to a federal lawsuit brought by Lighthouse Fellowship Church of Chincoteague.
The church sued after its pastor was issued a criminal citation for having 16 people at a Palm Sunday service that authorities said violated Northam’s order barring gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Justice Department on Sunday filed a statement of interest siding with a Virginia church.
The Justice Department’s filing, citing the lawsuit, says the church had maintained social distancing and had extensive sanitizing of common surfaces.
The department said Virginia “cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings.”
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said it was “beyond the pale” for the pastor to be issued a criminal citation.
Speaking on “The Brian Kilmeade Show″ on Fox News Radio, Pence said he agreed with the DOJ’s decision to support the church.
Pence said even during a national emergency, every American enjoys the freedom of religion.