An attendee at a gun-rights rally open carries his gun in a holster that reads “We the People” from the Preamble to the United States Constitution, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham discussed the matter of state and local government overreach in an interview last week with Attorney General William Barr. He told Ingraham, “I think religious liberty is the first liberty. It is the foundation of our republic, and a free society depends upon a vibrant religious life among the people. So anytime that’s encroached upon by the government, I’m very, very concerned.”
Barr noted that “there is a power for the government to take extraordinary steps in genuine emergencies. That obviously creates a slippery slope…
There are occasions where liberties have to be restricted during certain emergencies such as war, or in this case, a potentially devastating pandemic. But they have to be balanced — whatever steps you take have to be balanced against the civil liberties of the American people, and it cannot be used as excuse for broad deprivations of liberty. So as things proceed, we’re going to be interested in both what the federal government is imposing, and also making sure that that’s justified, but also what the states do. The states have very broad, as you know, what we call, police powers. They have very broad powers that the federal government doesn’t have to regulate the lives of their citizens, as long as they don’t violate the Constitution.
As governors and local officials exercised their “emergency powers” last week, the severity of some of their orders has some Americans wondering if they’ve exceeded their authority. In several cases, these officials are clearly traversing that slippery slope. The question is, have some of them actually violated the Constitutional rights of American citizens?
One who may be out over his skis is Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat. He made an announcement (video can be viewed here) in which he warned that police will be recording the license plates of churchgoers on Easter Sunday. Those citizens will then be contacted by an official from the Health Department and ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Waving a sheet of paper that said, “Notice,” he said, “We’re gonna make sure that those who are going get notice, that this will happen. That if they’re going to participate in the mass gathering, it’s fourteen days, self-quarantined at their home. Somebody makes that decision, okay, but understand that this is the only way we can ensure that your decision doesn’t kill somebody else. That your decision doesn’t spread the coronavirus.”
Beshear’s order reportedly does not apply to drive-in services, but seemingly includes houses of worship that implement social distancing efforts and smaller services.
Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer decided that drive-in services should be included in the order as well.
The On Fire Christian Center of Louisville was outraged by Fischer’s decision and took the case to court.
On Saturday, U.S. District Judge Justin Walker issued a temporary restraining order blocking Fischer’s order.
Judge Walker wrote, “An American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter…The Mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is, ‘beyond all reason,’ unconstitutional.”
Another official who very likely went too far is the mayor of Greenville, MS, Errick Simmons, a Democrat. Simmons issued an order prohibiting “drive-in” church services.
In the video below, Pastor Charles Hamilton of the King James Bible Baptist Church is told by Greenville police that his rights are suspended.
Ahead of Hamilton’s planned 6:30 “drive-in” service, four police cars arrived at his church. One of the officers tells him they will issue a $500 ticket to each person who shows up.
Video from Pastor Hamilton of King James Bible Baptist Church in Greenville, MS. Church tried the “drive-in” method of holding services & were targeted due to the Mayor issuing an order prohibiting such services. Watch as an officer tells the Pastor that his rights are suspended. pic.twitter.com/zLdT6Qd8ew
— Nick Short (@PoliticalShort) April 11, 2020
Later, on Facebook, Hamilton wrote: “The police in Greenville, MS went to Temple Baptist Church this evening and gave everyone there a ticket for $500 because they had a drive in service. Everyone was in their cars with the windows up listening to pastor Arthur Scott preached on the radio. What is harmful about people being in their cars listening to preaching with their windows up? Christians do you all see what is going on?”
The Justice Department has taken notice of the growing number of state and local governments who have taken strong measures to discourage Christians from attending Easter services and is said to be monitoring the situation. On Saturday night, DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec tweeted the following:
During this sacred week for many Americans, AG Barr is monitoring govt regulation of religious services. While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs. Expect action from DOJ next week!
A statement from the Justice Department will deliver the message loudly and clearly that there are Constitutional limits to the power of government officials.