As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the battle over how far to limit personal liberty in the interest of public health is heating up.
As an example of two extremes taking hold, the state of Maryland is cracking down on personal freedom in the pursuit of keeping people safe, going so far as to issue a citation to a Maryland pastor for answering the door of his church without a mask, while a rural county in Virginia is erring on the side of individual rights and responsibility by declaring itself a “sanctuary” from state COVID-19 orders.
In Pasadena, Md., Rev. Dr. Dennis Jackman, the pastor of Community United Methodist Church, was working by himself in his church office when he heard someone trying to open a locked door. Concerned, Jackman went to see who was trying to get into the church and found that it was a state health official. The official subsequently gave Jackman a citation for opening the door without wearing a mask.
Jackman explained, “Immediately after answering the door, I went to my desk and put on my mask, but the health official seemed intent on finding something worthy of a citation.” The health official threatened Jackman with a fine, jail time, and shutting down the church for answering the door with no mask. Jackman was not only alone in his office but he was also the only person in the church at the time.
According to Jackman, the health official told the pastor that he was responding to an anonymous complaint that “there might be somebody here without a mask on.”
Lori Roman, president of the American Constitutional Rights Union, said,
One Virginia county is doing just that. On Tuesday evening, Campbell County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution rejecting Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 order and declaring the county a “First Amendment sanctuary.”
Like other states, Virginia is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases and is responding by targeting small businesses, especially restaurants and bars, and increasing enforcement measures. Northam’s most recent executive order restricts indoor and outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people, requires restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. and to completely close by midnight, and expands the mask mandate. The order also threatens to pull the licenses of any business or organization that doesn’t comply.
The Campbell County resolution states that Northam’s order violates First Amendment freedoms and the Constitution of Virginia. It also states that no county funds will be used in the enforcement of these orders and asks that the sheriff’s office not assist in enforcing the orders.
Many supporters attended the meeting and took off their masks in celebration.
Concord District Supervisor Matt Cline said,
The resolution is largely “symbolic” as the county has little to do with enforcement of COVID-19 orders. Campbell County Administrator Frank Rogers said, “I don’t think it presents a wide swing in our operational behavior.” He added, though, that county staff will be “all the more cogent” to stay out of virus restriction enforcement.
Campbell County Sheriff Whit Clark told the News and Advance that while he supports the resolution, it will not impact the way his office works. Regarding the mandates, he said, “We are not enforcing any of that. We haven’t been and we’re not going to.”
Board Chairman Charlie Watts did not enforce the 25-person cap at the meeting, saying,
Chris England, owner of The Clubhouse Bar & Billiards, supported the resolution. He said that the restrictions have done substantial harm to his business, claiming that before the order he had about 50 employees and has had to cut back to about a dozen:
Similar resolutions have been proposed in other Virginia counties as many Virginians oppose the governor’s orders. The governor, like many other public officials, hurt his own credibility on COVID protections when he was caught flouting his own guidance by going mask-free while taking selfies and talking with crowds of constituents on the beach. Later in the summer, both Gov. Northam and his wife contracted the coronavirus, though both recovered quickly.
It remains to be seen whether the Campbell County resolution will start a movement across the country as citizens grow increasingly weary of hypocritical government officials taking harsh tactics and hostile attitudes in their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Check out the Falkirk Center podcast with Ohio State Representative Jena Powell on lockdowns vs. liberty: