Justice Department sides with church over virus restrictions

CHINCOTEAUGUE. Va. (AP) — The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest siding with a Virginia church suing the state’s governor over restrictions because of the coronavirus.
The filing was made Sunday in support of the Lighthouse Fellowship Church, which is in Chincoteague on the state’s Eastern Shore.
The lawsuit alleges the church’s pastor, Kevin Wilson, was issued a criminal citation because he held a service with 16 people on April 5.
Authorities allege the church violated the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Justice Department’s filing, citing the lawsuit, says the church had maintained social distancing and had extensive sanitizing of common surfaces. The church said attendees had to stay 6 feet apart and use hand sanitizer before entering the building.
The Justice Department says Virginia “cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings.”
A judge had denied the church’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Friday.