The National Park Service has approved a permit for an evangelical “worship protest” gathering this weekend on the National Mall in Washington DC, which is expected to attract 15,000 attendees amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sean Feucht, a singer and former Republican congressional candidate, will host the event as part of his “Let Us Worship” tour. He’s held the tour in cities across America amid the coronavirus pandemic to protest Covid-19 restrictions against religious gatherings.
But these tour dates have garnered criticism from public health officials and other worship leaders because the events don’t require social distancing or mask wearing from the attendees.
The permit granted to Mr Feucht and his “worship protest” gives the event use of part of the National Mall from 6.30am on 24 October to 1am on 26 October.
The National Park Service was also provided with a Covid-19 “mitigation” plan from Mr Feucht and his team. This plan included masks and gloves for the crew members, temperature checks of crew members, sanitisation of specific areas, sanitation stations provided outside the designated restrooms, and “a sign placed at the table where we will give away Bibles."
“While the National Park Service strongly encourages social distancing, the use of masks and other measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, we will not require nor enforce their use,” a Park Service spokesperson said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
But the National Park Service “reserves the right to immediately revoke this permit at any time should it responsibly appear that the public gathering presents a clear and present danger to public safety, good order or health, or if any conditions of this permit are violated,” according to the final permit.
Washington DC’s current coronavirus guidelines prevent gatherings of more than 50 people, but the National Mall is under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
“It’s disgraceful,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who advises the World Health Organisation, told The Daily Beast. “It violates DC’s Covid-19 plan and it’s almost certainly going to lead to a superspreader event — and cause many new cases, hospitalisation, and even death. It violates virtually every principle to mitigate this pandemic.”
Mr Feucht has faced backlash for previous attempts to host tours in other cities.
City officials in Seattle denied his permit request to hold an event last month, which encouraged the Christian singer to write an op-ed in The Federalist about why he was holding “worship protests” in the first place.
“Hostile efforts in many cities now threaten to suppress the First Amendment rights of all people to exercise our faith freely. In unprecedented acts of government-authorised injustice, Christians are being told they cannot gather for worship, they cannot sing songs of praise, and they cannot observe church ordinances,” he wrote.
"In major cities across America, godless politicians are adopting tactics that more closely resemble those of jihadist ayatollahs than men and women who are sworn to uphold the rule of law."
Nashville officials have also vowed to issue “appropriate penalties” against Mr Feucht following his event held in the Tennessee city earlier this month. The event broke local coronavirus ordinances, but it was not clear what penalties were issued, if any, against the singer.