In one of its early pandemic regulations last spring, the State of Massachusetts closed all locations that provided “non-essential” services, a category that included churches. The only exception to this prohibition was for congregations of no more than 10 worshippers — effectively making in-person worship impossible.

“My family is six, plus our sound guy is seven, so that means three people can come to church on a Sunday morning,” says Kris Casey, pastor of Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, in the above video. Pastor Casey decided to defy the directive and offered services at his church — with social distancing, hand-washing, required masks, and other precautions — for which the city issued him two citations and a $300 fee.

Carl Schmitt (’00)
Carl Schmitt (’90)

The pastor then sought legal protection and, with the assistance of the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Christian Law Association, alumnus attorney Carl Schmitt (’90) took his case.

“I had the sense that [the state] had quickly organized churches into later phases (of its reopening plan), not based on any constitutional analysis, but just on a secular analysis of what it looked like — like a movie theater,” says Mr. Schmitt. “With regard to church, it is constitutionally protected, so government may not infringe on it any more than is necessary, and certainly not any more than other activities, like going to Walmart or to the liquor store.”

After a letter to the governor of Massachusetts went unanswered, Mr. Schmitt filed a lawsuit against state and local officials. “Nothing gets one’s attention, or focuses one’s attention, like a date with a federal judge and an afternoon hearing,” he observes. In short order, the Assistant Attorney General contacted him to negotiate a new order that would respect churches’ religious liberty.

“I indicated that I thought that 40 percent [capacity] made sense,” he says, “and that churches should be treated as a Phase 1 entity instead of what I feared was going to happen, which was that it would be treated more as a Phase 4 kind of activity.” The state accepted his suggestions and in May issued a revised COVID-19 order that allowed Bay State residents once more to safely assemble in their houses of worship.

“We needed help,” says Pastor Casey of Mr. Schmitt’s representation. “And God brought the reinforcement.”

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, Mr. Schmitt is a partner at Schmitt & Dillon Counselors at Law, which he co-founded with fellow TAC graduate Thomas M. Dillon (’91). “People often ask me whether the College prepared me for law school and the practice of law, and I tell them it was the best preparation I could have gotten because it taught me three seemingly simple but very important things,” he says. “How to carefully read a text, how to seriously consider both sides of an argument, and how to really listen to others. I put what I learned at the College to work every day, and I am profoundly grateful for the education I received there.”