In Oregon, a court declared restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and assembly “null and void.” Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff issued a preliminary injunction against Governor Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order. He ruled that the emergency order should have expired after 28 days because the state legislature was never convened to renew it.
“Once the maximum 28-day period is exceeded,” the judge explained, “the governor’s executive orders and all subsequent orders were rendered null and void.”
The lawsuit was initially brought by several churches, and a variety of businesses and individuals joined as plaintiffs as well.
According to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ray Hacke, the ruling invalidates the stay-at-home order not only with respect to church services but in its entirety. “The stay-at-home order is no longer in effect,” he said. “It is invalidated. If people want to get their hair cut, they can. They can leave their home for any reason whether it’s deemed essential in the eye of the state or not…. Praise God. I’m excited, and I’m glad that the judge saw that there are limitations on the governor’s power, even in the midst of emergencies.”
Another person involved in the lawsuit was gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix. “The governor may issue guidelines and she may encourage Oregonians to be safe,” he said. “She may not close down churches and businesses under pain of criminal misdemeanor charges.”
I could not agree more strongly with these sentiments. The government has a right to issue public health recommendations and educate people about risks. But people must be allowed to make their own decisions about how to manage their risk.
Gov. Brown announced that she was going to appeal the ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court. However, Judge Shirtcliff declined to issue a stay of his ruling, meaning that the order is unenforceable while the appeal is pending.
“The science behind these executive orders hasn’t changed one bit,” said the governor. “Ongoing physical distancing, staying home as much as possible, and wearing face coverings will save lives across Oregon.”
With all due respect, Gov. Brown is missing the point. The science may very well be what she says it is. But science does not have anything to do with which laws should be enacted. Moral principles are the only thing that should be considered when determining what the laws should be. The most important moral principle is the non-aggression principle, the idea that people have a right to do any action that does not violate the rights of others. Banning things that do not violate the rights of others – exactly what is done by stay-at-home restrictions – is wrong. This is true regardless of what the science says and regardless of how many lives the restrictions save.
Individual rights must always come first. Thank you to Judge Shirtcliff for upholding them.