The Justice Department is sending a signal to states by siding with a Virginia church suing Gov. Ralph Northam after police threatened the pastor with jail time, a $2,500 fine, or both, for daring to hold a church service on Palm Sunday. This is the latest of cases coming forward with the Justice Department taking the plaintiff’s side against the states.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr made it clear last month that federal prosecutors should “be on the lookout” for overly restrictive state and local shutdown orders that may infringe on people’s constitutional rights – especially when it comes to the First Amendment.
“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,” Barr said in an April memo.
Churches aren’t the only thing being challenged, the overreach by State and city officials, shutting down what they consider as not necessities, such as Michigan shut down of certain Isles in stores because the governor doesn’t agree these items are needed now. Court cases are now starting to pop up over how states and local governments shut down businesses, cut off access to quality of life items, these are all seeing either oversight by the Justice Department or active aid in the cases.
The DOJ’s decision in Virginia comes after police in protective garb served a summons to Kevin Wilson, the pastor of Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island, for holding the service on April 5 with 16 people in a church that could fit 293 people. State officials said Wilson and the church broke state-imposed social distancing restrictions intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Justice Department, however, disagreed with the state – saying in a statement to Fox News that the state “has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers and other workers to do the same.”
In a similar case, the DOJ also sided with the Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss., in April after Greenville police officers began issuing $500 tickets to congregants who refused to leave a parking lot where the church was holding a drive-in service.
Fox News reported they had a statement from the Justice Department, which said the U.S. regularly files statements of interest on “important issues of religious liberty in courts at every level, from trial courts to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
“Today, the Department filed a statement of interest in support of a church in Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up,” Barr said. “The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.”
Joining the Justice Department, we now see judges on both the state and federal level taking sides against the states in their unconstitutional grab of power, thus stripping their citizens of civil rights guaranteed under the constitution.
A federal judge last month blocked Kansas from limiting attendance at in-person religious worship services or activities to 10 people or fewer to check the spread of the coronavirus.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge John Broomes in Wichita prevents the enforcement of an order issued by Gov. Laura Kelly if pastors and congregations observe social distancing.
“Churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment,” Broomes wrote in his order.
A lawsuit over church gatherings was filed in mid-April by First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Pastor Stephen Ormond and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City and Pastor Aaron Harris. The lawsuit said both churches held indoor Easter services with 20 or more members of the congregation present.
In Colorado, a district court issued a temporary restraining order – and facing the possibility of more legal action – officials in the suburban-Denver town of Broomfield decided against issuing a public health order that would have stopped work at an oil and gas site during the coronavirus pandemic.
A court in late March issued the restraining order, and in early April, the town’s council overwhelmingly voted against the measure to direct Extraction Oil and Gas Co. to put off the work until Colorado’s stay-at-home order is lifted.
We have no seen businesses in Pennsylvania changeling a Governor’s order shutting down all non-essential businesses as being overly broad in definition, thus gives no restraint to the order. The Governor is fighting back, the state just filing a 30-page brief trying to say the Governor had a legal right to act in such a restrictive way.
In some areas, sheriffs and other legal authorities have given notice that they will not enforce governors’ ban because the orders were unconstitutional.
In Arizona, sheriffs in two counties have said that they will not enforce Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home orders.
Sheriffs in Mohave County, which sits in the northwest of the state near Las Vegas, and Pinal County, between the urban centers of Phoenix and Tucson, said they would not arrest or hand out fines to those violating the stay-at-home order.
“My conscience will not allow me to arrest someone who is trying to make a living,” Schuster told the Arizona Republic. “I don’t believe it is a crime to try and make a living.”
“I don’t think, for the most part, people want to be defying [the order],” Schuster added. “They’re trying to do what’s best for their families.”
What we are seeing is mass protests against tyrannical actions by governors and state local officials, with the people starting to ignore the orders, police, and sheriffs refusing to enforce what they see as unconstitutional, we see cracks in this unlawful seizure of power by Democrat Governors and state officials.
The American people are given the same rights as public officials; this includes trusting them to use their common sense to put in place their social distancing, something the Churches had done. For states to strip these rights, acting like these citizens are children, this is a direct violation of our civil liberties, that is unacceptable.