Justice Dept Sends Letter to Maryland Officials Regarding Religious Rights Concerns

NEW YORK -
Eric S. Dreiband, US Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. (United States Department of Justice)

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband sent a letter to Montgomery County Maryland executives expressing First Amendment concerns regarding county orders, the Justice Department today announced. This letter calls on county officials to ensure that regulations and their enforcement respect equally the right of assembly as well as the right to practice their faith.

“During a crisis, it is important for people of faith to be able to exercise their religion,” said Mr. Dreiband. “Montgomery County has shown no good reason for not trusting congregants who promise to use care in worship the same way it trusts political protesters to do the same. The Department of Justice will continue to take action if states and localities infringe on the free exercise of religion or other civil liberties.”

Although it begins by applauding Montgomery County for allowing gatherings for political protest, it still urges the county to allow gatherings for religious exercise on equal terms. The letter specifically contrasts Montgomery County’s Executive Order No. 070-20, banning all gatherings larger than 10 persons, and County Executive Elrich’s June 1, 2020 statement supporting freedom of assembly and public safety, which nevertheless committed the County to providing a protected environment for peaceful protests.

The letter notes that the executive order would have prohibited the protest held in Bethesda, Maryland, on June 2 that reportedly involved hundreds of people packed into a library, and urged the County to amend its order to protect its residents’ First Amendment rights. However, the letter cautioned that the County must treat religious gatherings on equal footing with similar secular gatherings.