As the pastor of a Catholic parish in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., my attitude towards pandemic restrictions for public worship changed after the horrendous police murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests across the United States.
A troubling double standard emerged among many government leaders – a double standard that I believe calls for a much stronger response from religious communities anywhere public worship is being restricted in ways that public protest is not.
For the record, I supported the restrictions placed on public worship in the early stages of the pandemic. In addition, our parish community has strictly adhered to very restrictive local guidelines throughout this pandemic.
However, as the restrictions dragged on, I began to question the logic and use of data that were offered to justify their continuation. Despite my growing frustration with the restrictions, I believed them to be ill-advised but not fundamentally unjust.
The double standard that has been widely applied by government leaders across the country for more than two weeks, however, is fundamentally unjust. We have been told that large gatherings of people had to be prohibited, including public worship, under the emergency conditions of a pandemic. Justice demands that this kind of restriction be applied neutrally across society.
Yet now we have seen and been told that large gatherings of people protesting racism against African Americans and the murder of George Floyd are exempt from these restrictions, meaning that their application is no longer neutral. Such a double standard is unjust and unlawful.
In no way do I oppose these protests or the right to protest at this stage of the pandemic. I only oppose a double standard for our most fundamental American rights as enumerated in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically, the freedom of speech and assembly and the free exercise of religion.
As assuredly as our Christian faith compels us to speak up against the injustice of racism and the murder of George Floyd, we are compelled to speak up against the injustice of the unequal application of pandemic restrictions that allow public protest but deny public worship.
Msgr. Bill Parent is pastor at St. Elizabeth Church in Rockville, Maryland.