Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that a “constitutionally dubious” double standard is being applied to religious communities and protestors during a Senate session on Tuesday.
“I have no criticism for the millions of Americans who peacefully demonstrated in recent days. Their cause is beyond righteous,” said McConnell. “It is the inconsistency from leaders that has been baffling.”
The senator said that while he supports the recent large protests and the goals they seek, there is also “a different pressing problem that concerns Americans’ Constitutional rights.”
It has become “clear,” he said, that there is a “double standard” present in society: large protests are both allowed and praised, but many Americans are not presently allowed to go to religious services or run their small businesses as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus.
“For weeks, the mainstream media heaped scorn on any small citizen protest, outdoor gathering, or even the suggestion that other important values might require a reappraisal of certain restrictions,” said McConnell.
McConnell empathized with the people who “did their part” to stop the spread of the virus, and are continuing to observe strict prevention measures, but have been left confused that the standards they adhered to have “disappeared.”
“A month ago, small protest demonstrations were condemned as ‘reckless and selfish,’” he said. “Now, massive rallies that fill entire cities are not just praised, but, in fact, are called ‘especially brave’ because of the exact same health risks that brought condemnation when the cause was different.”
McConnell singled out local leaders, including Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who have praised large-scale protests yet have not allowed for the resumption of basic activities like church services.
“Here in the District of Columbia, the mayor celebrates massive street protests. She actually joins them herself. But on her command, churches and houses of worship remain shut,” McConnell said.
In Washington, houses of worship are not permitted to hold indoor or outdoor services with more than 10 people present. This includes the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church building in North America. The Archdiocese of Washington resumed public Masses throughout the entire archdiocese on Tuesday, June 9. Masses in the District of Columbia and immediately surrounding counties of Prince George and Montgomery are limited to a maximum of 10 people present.
“The rights of free speech and free assembly and religion are First Amendment rights,” said McConnell.
“They have the same Constitutional pedigree,” he said, insisting there could be no “picking and choosing” of which parts of the First Amendment to support.
McConnell cited a public health order in Contra Costa County, California, allowing protests of up to 100 people, but banning outdoor religious or social gatherings of more than 12 people.
“These governments are acting like the coronavirus discriminates based on the content of the people’s speech, but it is the leaders who are doing that.”
The senator said it was “impossible to avoid the conclusion” that governmental leaders are “using their powers to encourage constitutionally protected conduct which they personally appreciate while continuing to ban constitutionally protected conduct which they personally feel is less important.”
These politicians, said the senator, “do not get to play ‘Red light/green light’ with the First Amendment.”
McConnell praised the American people’s compliance with coronavirus regulations and lockowns as “courageous and patriotic,” and said that they “sacrificed a great deal.”
“Politicians must not repay that sacrifice with constitutionally dubious double standards.”
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