By Johnnie Rosario
(Tumon, Guam) Government officials using the color of their authority have gone to jail or have been admonished by courts for violating citizens's rights against illegal search and seizure and of free speech. But it isn't so common for government officials to be investigated for violating the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
It isn't every day that a government official uses the color of her authority to violate the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
Yet here we are in Guam, USA, nearly 228 years since the ratification of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Department of Public Health and Social Services director Linda DeNorcey has done just that.
In a trite response to a request by Fr. Paul Gofigan, chairman of the Archdiocese Liturgical Commission, for priests to conduct the Catholic Mass abiding by social distancing requirements, Ms. DeNorcey said:
"DPHSS neither supports, nor approves any sacramental services even though safety precautionary measures are in place as delineated in your letter."
The letters between the two officials caught the attention of United States Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Shawn Anderson, who has forwarded them to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ms. DeNorcey is under federal investigation, according to a well-placed source in Washington, D.C.
"Mr. Anderson will be forwarding both letters to the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice for their review," Carmela Rapadas of the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed to Kandit News.
The matter comes just a day after U.S. Attorney General William Barr shifted the Justice Department's focus during the COVID-19 emergency to government officials, who are using the color of their authority to violate the Constitutional and civil rights of citizens.
"I am directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens," Mr. Barr stated in a memorandum to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights, and to all United States Attorneys.
"If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court. I am therefore directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary take action to correct them."
Mr. Gofigan on April 22 listed the following requests in a letter to Ms. DeNorcey and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero:
"The Archdiocese of Agana would like to offer the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) to the faithful by having them drive up to the priest (or vice versa). This of course will be done in an open space.
"Due to the many infants still awaiting Baptism, we would like to perform baptisms in a sanitized font (using unopened bottled water), using double gloves to minimize contact when anointing the baptized with the sacred oils (using a sterile, non-woven sponge gauze). Those in attendance will be the priest (or deacon), the infant, the parents and the godparents and a few others not to exceed 10 people.
"Many weddings have already been postponed for over a month. We recommend the celebration of weddings using precautionary measures and limiting the number of those gathered to 10, inclusive of clergy and other essential liturgical ministers.
"Many of our homebound (non-COVID) parishioners are also in need of pastoral visits, especially on every first Friday of the month to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, Eucharist and possibly Anointing of the Sick. Wearing PPEs, the priests would like to continue to do this with extreme caution.
"Because the Holy Mass is the source and summit of our Christian lives, we are compelled to bring the Eucharist to the people. As a precautionary measure, we recommend that the celebration of the Mass be done in the parking lot of the parish where loud speakers will be placed and the reception of the Eucharist will be given using PPEs and social distancing enforced.
"Prior to cremation, a clergy member should gather with the immediate family to bless the body of the deceased as directed in the instructions for funerals with cremation."
Ms. DeNorcey did not address any of these proposals specifically, nor did she leave room for discussion on these matters, in her April 24 response to Mr. Gofigan.