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OK to protest during pandemic

I second Amy Hassinger’s June 21 defense of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District’s stance on recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

In The News-Gazette’s “Ask the Admin” feature, a reader asked Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde if her department tried to stop two large protests in light of statewide directives to socially distance, wear masks and limit the size of gatherings.

Pryde’s response was exemplary.

There was no attempt to stop people who protested the shutdown and demanded that the state “open up” again, Pryde pointed out.

Likewise, there was no attempt to stop people from protesting systemic racism, which has been made even more clear by the excessive burdens the pandemic lays on people of color.

Those protests emerged as expressions of frustration, anger and desire for change, Pryde said, and the district did offer guidance to help limit COVID-19 transmission.

“While the scientific foundation of public health is epidemiology, the philosophical underpinning is social justice,” she said.

As Hassinger pointed out, social justice isn’t a partisan goal. It’s embedded in the nation’s foundational principles.

These include the First Amendment right to assemble peaceably and petition the government for redress of grievance.

Of course it’s a right that comes with risks, which protesters assume voluntarily. One risk, for example, is that of being yelled at by those who disagree.

But government attempts to interfere with the exercise of that right are barred by the Constitution. Pryde understands that principle and expressed its spirit admirably.