Church buildings have the identical rights as protests, the DOJ instructed Maryland County

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) praised a Maryland County Council for protecting protesters' first amendment rights on Wednesday and now expects them to extend the same protection to religious gatherings.

In a letter to the Montgomery County Council on June 10, Deputy Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ praised the district's permission to allow public protests against racism despite current restrictions on public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. He added that the county should give religious assemblies the same recognition.

"Your support for a peaceful gathering and speech follows our nation's best traditions," Dreiband told Montgomery County, which borders Washington, D.C.

In recent weeks, demonstrators have taken to the streets in the suburbs of Germantown, Bethesda, Gaithersburg and other parts of the Washington county. ”

"Of course, protecting the first constitutional amendment for religious exercises is no less important," said Dreiband about the protests. He added that "we are assuming" that the Council will amend the Executive Regulation to allow religious assemblies to be part of "the full range of rights protected by the first change".

The district council issued a public statement in support of the protests against racism on June 1, the day a district ordinance continued to limit restrictions on personal religious gatherings because of the impending pandemic.

Montgomery County still restricts worship to drive-in or remote services under Executive Order No. 070-20 of June 1.

Churches in the district are allowed to hold church services for more than 10 people inside and outside from phase 2 of the district's reopening plan. In this scenario, one parishioner or family would be allowed per 200 square feet of service space.

The county says it is expected to move into the second phase of reopening next week, "if data trends continue," said district manager Marc Elrich on Wednesday, as reported by WUSA 9. "We expect modified retail purchases and indoor religious services as well as lap swimming to be possible." and more, ”he said.

In its letter, the DOJ also cited a June 2 protest that was reported to have taken place at the Bethesda Library to argue that indoor religious services should be allowed as a constitutional requirement.

"We understand that protests usually take place outdoors – where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower – and that services are usually held indoors," said Dreiband's letter. However, given the library's protest, in which hundreds of people attended, he said, "To refuse similar religious practice gatherings would raise serious concerns, according to the Constitution."

However, according to the video of the Bethesda Library protest on June 2, participants gathered in front of the library. Bethesda Magazine also reported that the protest took place outside and not inside that day in the library. The Huffington Post reported Thursday that the DOJ's allegation was based on a news report that had been updated since then.

Requests to the county for comments on the DOJ letter were not answered at the time of printing.

In its June 1 statement in support of the protests, the council noted that "community leaders, demonstrators, and demonstrators are" hurt, upset, and fearful "" over the decades of institutional and structural racism in the United States that the murder of a once again made clear black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis. "

As of Monday, places of worship in neighboring Prince George & # 39; s County, Maryland can hold indoor worship services with a capacity of 25% or outdoors with 250 people or less who practice social distancing.

In Washington DC churches can only hold meetings with 10 or fewer people.

The Archdiocese also includes several counties in Maryland. As of May 25, public fairs could be held at fairs where local authorities had started to lift restrictions on public health. For Catholic communities in Prince George & # 39; s County, they can once again offer public fairs with a capacity of 25% on Monday.

Other officials have voiced criticism for supporting mass outdoor protests while restricting religious gatherings.

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