Of all the deprivations that Rhode Islanders generally and Catholic Rhode Islanders specifically have had to endure during the past month or so, the inability to collect palms on Palm Sunday is not the biggest. That said, it is critically important to note that it was patently unconstitutional for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo to direct that they not be provided:
Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist confirmed Sunday that officers responded to St. Patrick’s Church after someone called to report palms were being given out.
“It turned out that the doors to the church were left open with a basket of palms left in the vestibule for parishioners to take one,” Winquist said in an email. “No clergy were present.”
He said police did not take any action, as Gov. Gina Raimondo’s directive not to hand out palms did not come with an official executive order.
Raimondo announced Friday there would be no distribution of palms for the holiday, which marks the start of Holy Week for Christians.
St. Patrick’s is not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, so the suggestion of Bishop Thomas Tobin that parishes should comply with the “directive” did not apply. Within his scope, however, it would have been preferable for Bishop Tobin to assert that the ban on palms was his decision, not the governor’s, rather than just cede his authority to her.
If the First Amendment means anything when it comes to religion, it means that the governor cannot decide what religious implements are “essential.” Fundamentally, that is the government’s chief executive implementing her own religious worldview as the law (and her support for abortion proves that her worldview is not Catholic). Flowers from the grocer are permitted. Beer is permitted. Delivery of newspapers is permitted. Pickup of sporting goods, office supplies, and more is permitted.
In other words, Governor Raimondo isn’t only saying that palm branches distributed through churches are not “essential,” but that they are uniquely dangerous. Satan, no doubt, agrees.
This is a travesty against our Constitutional rights. The governor could ask religious leaders and individuals to (please) consider whether a particular implement or ritual is “essential,” but she cannot direct that it is or isn’t. If religious Rhode Islanders don’t protect this liberty during our slow-rolling crisis, we may never recover it.