bookmark_borderTrump and DOJ join fight against authoritarian restrictions

President Trump is not perfect, and I don’t agree with him and his administration on all issues. However, it is encouraging that at least to some extent, he and Attorney General Bill Barr are pushing back against state governments’ restrictive measures designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in Illinois State Representative Darren Bailey’s lawsuit against Governor J.B. Pritzker. “Plaintiff has set forth a strong case that the Orders exceed the authority granted to the Governor by the Illinois legislature,” read the DOJ court filing.

A statement by Barr’s office said the court filing was part of his initiative “to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The state’s public health concern, the statement continued, “does not justify government restrictions imposed upon its citizens without legal authority.”

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the Governor under Illinois law,” said U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft of the Southern District of Illinois.

Additionally, President Trump has taken aim at states’ shutdowns of churches. “Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend,” he said at a press conference on Friday. He classified “houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services… Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

bookmark_borderMississippi church burned down in horrendous hate crime

In a despicable act, someone burned down the First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

The church had sued the city government over its stay-at-home order which banned in-person services, and pastor Jerry Waldrop reportedly clashed with city officials at a demonstration at a local Walmart. The city had shut down a Bible study group at the church and cited Waldrop for holding an Easter mass.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the words “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits” were spray-painted on the ground at the scene of the fire, along with an A inside an atomic symbol, a logo for atheism.

To his credit, the President of American Atheists, Nick Fish, called the arson a “heinous act of destruction.”

Clearly, the motivation of the arsonist was to target the church for standing up to the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In other words, the arsonist committed his/her crime out of support for these authoritarian policies and out of a desire to punish those who fight back against them. This places this act of arson in the very worst category of crimes: members of the majority aggressing against an unpopular minority. This should be treated as a hate crime, and the perpetrator should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

bookmark_borderVictory for religious freedom in North Carolina

A victory for religious freedom took place today in North Carolina. Judge James C. Dever III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order violates the First Amendment by prohibiting indoor church services of more than 10 people. The Berean Baptist Church and its pastor Dr. Ronnie Baity, the People’s Baptist Church, and the organization Return America sued the governor, and the court granted their request for an emergency temporary restraining order, preventing the church service ban from being enforced.

Here’s a quote from the ruling:

“There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Free Exercise claim concerning the assembly for religious worship provisions in Executive Order 138, that they will suffer irreparable harm absent a temporary restraining order, that the equities tip in their favor, and that a temporary restraining order is in the public interest. Thus, having considered the entire record and governing law, the court grants plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order.”

The full ruling can be read here.

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.