Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called out a “double standard” among Democrats who restricted the First Amendment right of Christians to gather for in-person worship services during the coronavirus pandemic but celebrated throngs of people protesting in the nation’s streets in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“I’m grateful that after several harrowing days of looting and riots law enforcement restored order and helped these peaceful protesters be heard, notwithstanding the far left calls to disband the police altogether. I believe most Americans are ready to consider how the memories of black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor can move us to continue combating residual racism,” the Kentucky senator began in an address to the Senate Tuesday.
He then made it clear that his address would be about defending the First Amendment right of all Americans to speak out about issues they strongly support and not just the ones endorsed by “powerful people.”
“It is becoming clear to many Americans, including many who appreciate and applaud the recent protests, that our national life during this pandemic has slid toward a double standard,” McConnell said. “Many Americans feel they have just seen those fastidious regulations and that puritanical zeal disappear in an instant because a new cause has emerged that powerful people agree with.
He noted that state and local leaders “put normal American life totally on ice” for weeks and asked citizens to make fighting the coronavirus a priority while making many sacrifices.
“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,” he said.
“A month ago, small protest demonstrations were widely condemned as reckless and selfish. Now, massive rallies that fill entire cities are not just praised but are called especially brave because of the exact same health risk that brought condemnation when the cause was different,” McConnell continued.
“People just spent the spring watching their small businesses dissolve, or canceling weddings or missing religious observances for the longest spells in their lives or missing the last days of a loved one’s life and then missing the funeral. Never were the American people told about any exemption for things they felt strongly about,” he noted.
He then called out Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for selectively allowing Black Lives Matter protests but not church services during the pandemic.
“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,” he said. “I believe even the largest church buildings in the District are still subject to the 10-person limit for the things the mayor deems inessential.”
Houses of worship in the District of Columbia 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 Catholic News Agency reported. The Archdiocese of Washington resumed public masses throughout the entire archdiocese on Tuesday. Masses in Washington and immediately surrounding counties of Prince George and Montgomery are also limited to a maximum of 10 people.
McConnell also pointed to stay-at-home orders in New York City and the restrictions imposed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who also violated her own social distancing orders, saying freedom of speech, assembly and religion “have the same constitutional pedigree.”
“But apparently, while protests are still permissible, prayer is still too dangerous,” the majority leader said.
“It is now impossible to avoid the conclusion that local and state 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,” McConnell added.