WASHINGTON (RNS) — Christian recording artist Sean Feucht is slated to bring his worship protest tour to the nation’s capital this Sunday (Oct. 25) despite concerns around mass gatherings during a pandemic.
Feucht’s tour has received widespread criticism from public health officials and other faith leaders who challenge the wisdom of hosting events where neither he nor many attendees wear masks or abide by social distancing restrictions.
As reported by The Daily Beast, the National Park Service has already approved a permit for the event, which organizers expect up to 15,000 people to attend. The concert is part of Feucht’s “Let Us Worship” tour, which has consisted of sporadic and sometimes impromptu performances — featuring attendees belting out praise songs — at various locations across the country.
The Park Service provided Religion News Service with Feucht’s permit Wednesday afternoon, which grants him use of part of the National Mall from 6:30 am on Saturday, October 24, 2020 to 1:00 am on Monday, October 26. It briefly details a “COVID-19 mitigation plan” provided by Feucht’s team that includes erecting a sign at the table where Bibles are given away, temperature-testing the crew (who will be provided with masks and gloves) and placing sanitation stations near restrooms.
The Park Service noted that a COVID-19 plan “is not a requirement or condition of the permit,” and acknowledged that social distancing restrictions will not be enforced.
“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,” read a statement from a spokesperson.
The Park Service did not answer more specific questions regarding criticism of the event.
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Washington’s COVID-19 restrictions explicitly prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people. However, while the National Mall is located at the heart of the city, it is administrated by the federal government.
“It violates D.C.’s COVID-19 plan and it’s almost certainly going to lead to a superspreader event— and cause many new cases, hospitalization, and even death. It violates virtually every principle to mitigate this pandemic. It’s disgraceful,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told The Daily Beast.
The California musician’s tour is framed as a protest against state and local ordinances restricting various religious activities in order to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that has killed at least 220,000 people in the United States so far.
However, not all of Feucht’s concerts have occurred in places with such restrictions. His band recently performed in Nashville, Tennessee, without applying for a permit, even though churches in the city are allowed to worship in person.
Feucht has framed his concerts as a dispute between “politicians” and Christians like himself, but pastors are among his fiercest critics.
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“All I see is a concert with no social distancing,” the Rev. Thomas McKenzie, pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, told Religion News Service. “It seems to be this is more about Sean and less about Jesus.”
The Metro Nashville Health Department later released a statement saying it was “very concerned” about the event in the city, adding that it planned to “pursue appropriate penalties against the organizer.”
Some of Feucht’s performances, such as one planned in Seattle, have been canceled by authorities. But he has held concerts in the street anyway, packing hundreds into small spaces in defiance of local regulations and recommendations put forth by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.