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Wisconsin priest protests extra reopening restrictions on churches in his county

Violators could be fined up to $1,000.
Fri May 29, 2020 - 7:27 pm EST
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DANE COUNTY, Wisconsin, May 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A county in Wisconsin has banned “Religious Entities” from having over 50 people inside due to the coronavirus, despite allowing for a 25 percent capacity maximum in restaurants, bars, and malls. 

Father Richard Heilman, the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pine Bluff, Wisconsin located in Dane County, called this “discrimination” and organized a rosary rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol this afternoon. Heilman told LifeSiteNews that he has been doing rosary walks on the Wisconsin State Capitol almost daily since May 1.

“It’s obviously a discrimination against people of faith, to change the rules just for our county to a maximum 50,” Heilman told LifeSiteNews.

“We’re grabbing our rosaries and we're making ourselves present out in the public that we are not happy with this. With our prayers and our walking outside, we literally reclaim surrendered ground and drive the snakes out like St. Patrick did.”

Public Health Madison & Dane County initially released the first version of its “Forward Dane - Phased Reopening Plan for Dane County During the COVID-19 Pandemic” on May 18, 2020. The first phase began a gradual reopening of the economy and community on May 26. 

This first plan allowed churches and other places of worship to be open at 25 percent capacity, with participants physical distancing. The order also allowed bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, indoor malls, and other businesses to operate at 25 percent capacity. 

However, on May 22, Public Health Madison & Dane County reversed course with Dane County Emergency Order 3. This changed its May 18 order to single out indoor and outdoor “Mass Gatherings,” which includes churches and places of worship, to 50 persons or fewer. Festivals, carnivals, fairs, and concerts are also limited to 50 people. 

Bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, indoor malls, and other businesses will continue to be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity under the new order. 

In a homily today, Heilman said that the apostles and great saints of the church did not sit back “and take it” but instead were not afraid to bring the “truth with love.” 

“My brothers and sisters, we have to drive the snakes out.”

Will ‘government watchers’ show up at churches?

Wisconsin was under a state emergency with residents restricted in their movements by a “stay at home” until its Supreme Court struck down the order on May 13. 

This has left the state with no clear plan for reopening, meaning that individual cities and counties’ plans are the ones imposed on residents.

On May 22, the Diocese of Madison announced that public Masses would resume this weekend, in time for Pentecost.

Heilman also wrote on Facebook today that in an email to priests, the Diocese of Madison suggested all “disappointed Catholic faithful in Dane County” and “county residents of goodwill” immediately contact local officials in protest.

The Dane County order states that “Religious Entities,” which it defines as “mosques, synagogues, temples, churches and nondenominational ministries,” must follow Sections two and four of the order.  Section two deals with “Mass Gatherings” and section four with maintaining physical distancing and hygiene standards. 

Those found in violation of the order can face fines of $1,000 per violation as per Section nine of the order. The order was signed by Janel Heinrich, Health Officer, Public Health Madison & Dane County. 

LifeSiteNews contacted Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and asked him why churches are limited to only a maximum of 50 people, despite previously being allowed a 25 percent capacity. 

The communications team from Public Health Madison & Dane County claimed in a statement that their “Mass Gathering” restrictions do not single out churches.

“Religious entities are not treated any differently under the Order. All mass gatherings under the Order are treated the same, regardless of where they are being held (office space, restaurant, religious facility) and all religious entities are being treated the same,” it said.

“There are no ‘government watchers’ who will be policing any business or religious entity,” the statement went on to claim. “In the shared spirit of keeping our friends, neighbors, and loved ones well, we ask everyone to identify ways to comply with these orders to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

In his Facebook post, Heilman wrote that “It was made clear” to the Diocese of Madison that “government watchers would be present at parishes, in order to cite offending churches.” 

Religious persecution cloaked under the guise of ‘public health precautions’

Dan Miller, State Director for Pro-Life Wisconsin, told LifeSiteNews that he is “appalled” but not surprised by Dane County’s extra restrictions.

“Dane County, Wisconsin continues to prove that they are 1,238 square miles surrounded by reality. We are appalled, but not shocked, that Dane County would continue Governor Tony Evers' policies of religious persecution cloaked under the guise of ‘public health precautions,’” said Miller.

The Dane County reopening orders follow the guidelines set by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ “Badger Bounce Back Plan” and the guidance provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. 

Contact information for respectful communications

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi 
608-266-4114, [email protected]

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway
608-266-4611 

Janel Heinrich, the Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County
608-266-4821
[email protected]


  catholic, coronavirus, religious freedom, richard heilman, wisconsin, wisconsin state capitol, wisconsin supreme court

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