VP Pence: 'Beyond the pale' for Virginia to sanction church for holding small service

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Vice President Mike Pence reacted on Wednesday to the Justice Department’s decision to side with a Virginia church, which sued Gov. Ralph Northam after being fined for holding a service during the coronavirus pandemic, saying he “strongly” agrees with the ruling.

“Even in the midst of a national emergency, every American enjoys our cherished liberties, including the freedom of religion,” Pence, who is leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said on “The Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox News Radio.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island sued Northam after police threatened a pastor with jail time or a $2,500 fine for violating the state's coronavirus lockdown restrictions by holding a 16-person church service on Palm Sunday.

The DOJ decision came after police in protective garb served a summons to Kevin Wilson, the pastor of the church, for holding the service on April 5 with 16 people spaced far apart from one another in a church that could fit 293 people. State officials said Wilson and the church violated the Virginia Constitution by breaking state-imposed social distancing restrictions intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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“The very idea that the Commonwealth of Virginia would sanction a church for having 16 people come to a Palm Sunday service, when I think the church actually seats 250, was just beyond the pale and I’m truly grateful for Attorney General William Barr standing by religious liberty as we approach the National Day of Prayer this Thursday,” Pence told host Brian Kilmeade.

“We’re going to be celebrating the faith of the American people and the freedom to practice and live out our faith every day and that’s why I wanted to speak out in favor of the DOJ’s action and just assure every American that we are going to stand by men and women of faith of every religion in this country and protect, even in this challenging time, protect their freedom of religion,” he continued.

Fox News’ David Spunt and Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.