bookmark_borderAnti-lockdown lawsuits all around the country

Politico has a good article outlining the lawsuits that have been filed all around the country against various states’ COVID-19 lockdown orders. Here are some examples:

  • In California there have been numerous lawsuits filed against Governor Gavin Newsom for his closures of gun stores, churches, gyms, yoga studios, hair salons, and beaches, ban on protests, and the stay-at-home order in its entirety. In one example, LA County resident Samuel Armstrong sued the state, arguing (correctly, in my opinion) that the order amounts to detention without due process of law, thereby violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who represents the plaintiffs in several of these lawsuits, said, “We do not shut down our highways because people die in car accidents. We do not ban commerce because people die of lung disease after buying cigarettes.”
  • In Kentucky, four protesters sued Governor Andy Beshear, arguing that the state’s restrictions on protests violate the First Amendment. Another lawsuit focusing on the ban of church services was upheld by a federal court.
  • In Maine, a group of business owners sued Governor Janet Mills over her stay-at-home order.
  • In Maryland, a group of business owners, religious leaders, and state delegates sued Governor Larry Hogan, asking for a restraining order preventing enforcement of the state’s lockdown.
  • In Ohio, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law sued Governor Mike DeWine over his closure of non-essential businesses. More recently, this organization filed another lawsuit on behalf of 35 independent gym owners, who are still not permitted to open, despite the fact that the government has begun to lift restrictions.
  • In Pennsylvania, a group of business owners sued Governor Tom Wolf over the closure of non-essential businesses in a lawsuit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • In Texas, activist and lawyer Jared Woodfill has sued Governor Greg Abbott, arguing that the state’s lockdown order violates the Texas and U.S. Constitutions. Additionally, State Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened to sue the governments of Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio if they do not lift their strict stay-at-home measures.
  • And of course, in Wisconsin, a great victory took place this past Wednesday when the state Supreme Court struck down as “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable” the stay-at-home order enacted by Governor Tony Evers and Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. “Where in the Constitution did the people of Wisconsin confer the authority on a single unelected cabinet secretary to compel almost 6 million people to stay at home and close their businesses and face imprisonment if they don’t comply? With no input from the legislature, without the consent of the people? Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work among other ordinarily lawful activities?” asked Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley.

Salute to all of the plaintiffs, lawyers, and judges taking the side of freedom and individual rights.

bookmark_borderDOJ stands up for religious freedom

On Chincoteague Island, Virginia, the Lighthouse Fellowship Church is suing Governor Ralph Northam after he threatened the pastor with jail time or a $2,500 fine. The pastor’s offense? Holding a Palm Sunday service which was attended by 16 people, spaced apart in a church with a capacity of 293 people.

According to Fox News, the Department of Justice is coming to the church and pastor’s defense.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia 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,” said a DOJ statement.

“As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important for states to remember that we do not abandon all of our freedoms in times of emergency,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “Unlawful discrimination against people who exercise their right to religion violates the First Amendment, whether we are in a pandemic or not.”

Right on. The existence of a pandemic does not make people’s fundamental rights and freedoms disappear.

Attorney General Bill Barr had indicated earlier that he and his department would consider supporting individuals and organizations suing state governments over coronavirus-related restrictions. I am glad that he is following through and taking a stand against authoritarian state governments.

bookmark_borderRebels in Massachusetts

In my home state of Massachusetts, where the American Revolution began, there have been some acts of rebellion against stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.

A “Liberate Massachusetts” rally took place outside the Swampscott, MA home of Governor Charlie Baker. And although most of the news coverage emphasizes the fact that the protest was not very well-attended, this article from the Salem News includes some meaningful quotes from the protesters.

“If people are afraid that they are going to get this, then they should stay home,” said Dianna Ploss, one of the organizers of the protest. “But there are plenty of people who aren’t afraid and they should be allowed to come out.”

I agree with this sentiment 100%. In all areas of life, including when it comes to the coronavirus, people should be allowed to make their own decisions about how much risk they are willing to take. Those who prefer to err on the safe side should be free to take as many steps as they wish to reduce their risk of catching the disease, including staying home and reducing or eliminating contact with other people. But those who are willing to accept a higher amount of risk should be free to do so as well.

“I’m specifically here for my rights. My right to get up in the morning … and go out for a walk in this beautiful state and this beautiful country anywhere I please and any time I please. And, if you don’t know your rights, you can’t fight for them,” said another protester, John Lanni. “What I see here is a slow erosion of our rights.”

Ploss also pointed out the irony of the fact that liquor stores are allowed to remain open while churches are not.

Speaking of churches, the Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, MA held mass on Sunday, in defiance of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

“Some people aren’t happy we’re meeting today,” said Pastor Kris Casey. “To them, I say I’m sorry. I’m sorry you feel that way … but I would rather upset your feelings than disappoint my God. I’m thankful that you’ve got people who are taking a stand because they want to be a good Christian.”

The mass was attended by 53 people, and Casey has said he plans to continue holding them.

He sent a letter to Governor Baker and posted it on Facebook, in which he argues that the state’s forced shutdown of churches violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Kudos to him for standing up for his rights and those of his congregation.

bookmark_borderProtesting is labeled a “non-essential activity” in North Carolina

On Tuesday, over 100 people gathered in Raleigh, NC to protest against the state government’s stay-at-home orders. The group organizing the protest, ReOpenNC, characterizes (correctly, in my opinion) the restrictions on people and businesses imposed by Governor Roy Cooper as unconstitutional.

“You are in violation of the executive order,” a cop told the crowd. “You are posing a risk to public health. If you do not disperse, you will be taken and processed at Wake County jail.” Although most protesters eventually dispersed, one protestor, Monica Faith Ussery, was arrested and charged with violating the stay-at-home executive order. “I have a right to peacefully assemble,” she said.

After the protest, the Raleigh Police Department tweeted in response to a question, “Protesting is a non-essential activity.” In a separate statement, they wrote “More important is the health and wellness of all who live in our community… We simply want everyone to be safe during this very serious public health crisis.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing that the government can ban a fundamental First Amendment right simply because it is not essential. Ms. Ussery has a point: the First Amendment explicitly prohibits the government from making any law abridging “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” In other words, protesting against government policies is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to protect. Health and wellness are important, but the government’s primary job should be to protect people’s freedoms. When a fundamental right can be taken away merely because it poses a risk to public health, then we are not living in a free country.

bookmark_borderAdditional thoughts on Straight Pride Parade, protests, and District Attorney

The Straight Pride Parade that took place two weeks ago inspired a wide variety of reactions from politicians, judges, law enforcement officials, and others. Here is a summary of these developments and my opinions on them:

Battle between Suffolk D.A. and judge

36 people who protested against the parade were arrested for crimes such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on police officers. For 20 arrestees charged only with the first two crimes, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office attempted to drop the charges, but Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott ordered them to be arraigned anyways. This did not please Suffolk D.A. Rachael Rollins, who successfully petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the judge’s decision. “By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest,” Rollins said in a statement. “At my request, prosecutors used the discretion constitutionally allocated to the executive branch to triage cases and use our resources most effectively to protect public safety… For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech—many of whom had no prior criminal record—I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role.”

But from what I observed at the parade, the protesters were not merely exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech. They were attempting to prevent the parade marchers, whom they vastly outnumbered, from exercising theirs. Screaming at, swearing at, taunting, and insulting people for expressing a minority viewpoint is not free speech; it is bullying. Some protesters against the parade went so far as to openly advocate violence. According to the Boston Herald, an Antifa member named Jon Crowley said that violence was the only appropriate response to the parade. “We’re covered in black so when we attack these guys we can’t be prosecuted,” Crowley said. “They are fascists, 100%. How else are you going to get them to shut up?”

News flash: you do not have a right to get people to “shut up” when you disagree with their views. That’s the whole point of the First Amendment. People who attempt to silence and bully those with unpopular views should, when their actions rise to the level of breaking the law, be prosecuted as zealously and punished as severely as the law allows. Situations like what happened at the parade are the least appropriate situation for prosecutors to consider dropping charges. Also, contrary to what D.A. Rollins implied in her statement, public safety should not be the most important priority of the D.A.’s office; justice should be. And the most important part of justice is standing up for the rights of individuals (such as the parade marchers) against those who would trample on them (such as the jeering mobs of protesters).

John Ciccone, editor of South Boston Today, expressed his thoughts in an emailed statement with which I wholeheartedly agree: “It is the opinion of this newspaper and the overwhelming majority of readers heard from on this matter that the position and action Suffolk County DA Rollins has taken is absolutely wrong. In regard to the members of the so called ANTIFA organization, DA Rollins’ actions encourages the thug like violence of that group, who routinely have denied the rights of free speech and legal and peaceful protest of those they disagree with, not only in Boston during last weekend’s incidents, but in cities all across the nation. Those members of ANTIFA should be made an example of and be prosecuted to the full extend of what the law allows and if found guilty, given the maximum penalty. The message sent out should be loud and clear that they will not be allowed to come into Suffolk County and attack civilians and members of law enforcement without paying a heavy price for those actions.”

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