The US attorney general has spark fierce criticism after comparing coronavirus lockdown measures to slavery.
William Barr said calls for a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 were “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.
Unlike many other countries including the UK, Spain, Italy and France, there was no national coronavirus lockdown in the US and restrictions were decided by states.
But a senior Democrat, Representative James Clyburn, said Mr Barr’s remarks were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, godawful things I’ve ever heard”.
The House majority whip told CNN: “It is incredible that the chief law enforcement officer in this country will equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives.
“Slavery was not about saving lives, it was about devaluing the lives. This pandemic is a threat to human life.”
The US has seen the most people die after being infected with the virus – around 200,000 people – and almost seven million cases have been confirmed in the country.
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At an event at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, an institution with deep ties to conservative politics, Mr Barr was asked to explain the “constitutional hurdles for forbidding a church from meeting during COVID-19”.
Mr Barr said state governors were using their executive powers to stifle citizens and businesses from going back to work.
He added: “You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
His comments sparked a round of applause from the crowd.
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Mr Clyburn, who represents South Carolina, also criticised Donald Trump over his handling of the pandemic.
The president was against a strict nationwide lockdown earlier this year.
Mr Clyburn claimed if his administration is “going about the business of doing what is necessary to protect the people of this great country, we would be beyond this pandemic by now”.
He added: “Those countries that did it [imposed a nationwide lockdown], they are beyond it. It would have been great if we had a national lockdown so that people’s lives would be saved.”
This is not the first time Mr Barr has condemned stay-at-home orders.
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He has previously said some orders were disturbingly close to house arrest.
And the US justice department sent letters to several states warning some of their virus-related restrictions might be unlawful.