McConnell questions church restrictions amid protests, says pols ‘picking and choosing within' First Amendment

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday slammed politicians for “picking and choosing within the First Amendment,” as large-scale police brutality protests have broken out across the country, while most states have kept places of worship closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“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, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

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McConnell said that state and local leaders have put “normal American life totally on ice” and asked citizens to “prioritize” fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A month ago, small protest demonstrations were widely condemned as reckless and selfish,” McConnell said, referring to the protests at state capitals over state and local lockdown and stay-at-home orders. “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 said Americans spent the last several months “watching their small businesses dissolve, or canceling weddings, or missing religious observances for the longest spells of 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 said.

McConnell went on to say that he supports the peaceful demonstrations, and called their cause “beyond righteous,” but noted that “it is the inconsistency from leaders that has been baffling.”

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McConnell pointed to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who he said “argued that letting people carefully shop for vegetable seeds would be too dangerous during the pandemic” and who “now poses for photographs with groups of protesters.”

McConnell also pointed to Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who he said “celebrates massive street protests” and “joins them herself” but “on her command, churches and houses of worship remain shut.”

“The rights of free speech, free assembly, and the free exercise of religion are all First Amendment rights,” McConnell said. “They have the same constitutional pedigree.”

“But apparently, while protests are now permissible, prayer is still too dangerous,” he continued. “Politicians are now picking and choosing within the First Amendment.”

He added: “It is now impossible to avoid the conclusion that local and state leaders are using their power to encourage constitutionally-protected conduct which they personally appreciate, while continuing to ban constitutionally-protected conduct which they personally feel is less important."

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McConnell’s comments come as protests in response to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody last month broke out across the nation.

Amid coronavirus safety guidelines, churches and places of worship have remained closed, but states will begin allowing citizens to attend religious services later in their phased reopening.

The United States, as of Tuesday, reported more than 1.9 million positive cases of COVID-19 and more than 111,000 deaths.