As Seattle and Olympia get set for another round of protests and possibly riots this weekend, Senate Republicans are calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to end his double standard on large gatherings.
The governor has issued orders restricting church services, weddings, funerals, live entertainment and personal gatherings, calling it a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Yet he has done nothing to restrict hundreds if not thousands gathering for protest rallies and marches. This weekend’s protests will come two days after Inslee announced further restrictions to all other forms of public assembly.
Senate Republicans say they know a double standard when they see it.
“The freedom to peacefully assemble and petition one’s government is a guaranteed constitutional right under the First Amendment, but so are the freedoms of association and religion,” said Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, who is the Senate Republican floor leader.
Inequitable treatment for Washington citizens who wish to assemble sends a message that state officials will look the other way when they approve of the political message, Short said. She observes that inconsistent state policies are a major reason for public resistance to coronavirus restrictions.
“The hypocrisy is clear for all to see,” Short said. “The executive branch will turn a blind eye to thousands gathering if they agree with the message, but condemn a backyard party or dinner at a restaurant with someone outside of your household,” she added.
Short said the public still has serious concerns about the effects of large public protests on recent increases in the number of COVID-19 cases.
“Our state has experienced a surge in coronavirus infections, yet the executive branch has not acknowledged that the large protest gatherings could be a contributing factor,” Short said.
“At the very minimum, the governor should issue some guidance to those who it is rumored will gather this weekend. He must be clear that protesters must wash their hands, mask up and stay six feet apart.”
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, said that the governor also should remind protesters that while speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, destruction and rioting is not.
“The governor has a duty to protect all Washingtonians,” said Honeyford, a former Ellensburg law enforcement officer. “He should direct the State Patrol to protect the Legislative Building, and all other buildings on the Capitol Campus. These building belong to all Washingtonians and are symbols of the rule of law. An attack on these symbols is an attack on all of us, and on a society that values law as its basis. “
As of Friday afternoon, the governor had not issued an order to protect the Legislative Building, which has been the site of repeated vandalism during previous protests and riots.
“A statement from the governor that rioting, destruction of property and assaulting law enforcement will not be tolerated would also be greatly appreciated,” Honeyford said.
Both lawmakers reiterated Senate Republican requests for the governor to call lawmakers back to Olympia for a special session to deal with issues linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic hardship created by Inslee’s executive orders.
“The Legislature should be in special session right now,” said Short. “Until that happens, the governor needs to be even-handed in how pandemic restrictions are applied.”