Gabriel Rench, a pastor who was arrested last year for singing praise music outside, has been exonerated.
In September, Gabriel Rench and others were arrested while attending an outdoor song service in the Moscow City Hall parking lot. The song service was in part a protest against COVID-19 orders. Rench claimed the arrest violated his rights. A district court has sided with Rench and dismissed the case.
Christ Church holds a monthly hymn singing service. In September, the service was held outside the City Hall in response to a mask mandate implemented by the leaders of Moscow, Idaho. Rench said,
“We had done the psalm sing in the past under the same [mask] resolution and we weren’t arrested, we weren’t warned…we were just taking our constitutional liberties to do what we’re allowed to do under the Constitution — worship.”
On Rench’s podcast, CrossPolitic, he stated that an officer asked him to provide his driver’s license so he could write Rench a ticket. Rench refused, claiming the mask mandate was “tyranny.” Officers then arrested the deacon for violating the mask ordinance.
An Idaho district court has dismissed the charges against Rench.
The Thomas More Society represented Rench in court. Special Counsel Michael Jacques stated that the officers violated the order by arresting Rench. “The city of Moscow, Idaho, appears to have been so anxious to make an example of Christ Church’s opposition to their desired COVID restrictions that they failed to follow the mandatory exemptions articulated in their own laws,” Jacques said.
“The Moscow City Code allows the Mayor to issue public health emergency orders, but exempts ‘[a]ny and all expressive and associative activity that is protected by the United States and Idaho Constitutions, including speech, press, assembly, and/or religious activity.’ Mr. Rench and the other worshippers who were arrested had their constitutionally protected liberties violated and their lives disrupted — not only by the inappropriate actions of law enforcement officers, but also by city officials who did not immediately act to correct this unlawful arrest.”
The mayor did not have the authority to restrict constitutionally-protected activities. Courts have frequently found that governing authorities across the country have overstepped their bounds during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is encouraging that courts are willing to stand for the constitutionally-enshrined rights of American citizens. We should not be surprised by attempts to encroach on liberty as government will always whittle away at freedoms and seize more power if left unchecked.
The founders instituted a truly brilliant system of checks and balances to keep any branch of government from overstepping its authority. When used properly, these checks and balances effectively protect against authoritarian behavior.
As government officials continue to enact COVID-19 orders, Americans must remember their constitutional rights, so that when elected officials or unelected bureaucrats violate those rights we are ready and willing to take legal recourse to ensure they cannot continue their unchecked accumulation of power. Whatever your view of masks and mask mandates, ours is a government by and for the people. Its powers are clearly articulated and intentionally limited by the Constitution. When it exceeds those articulated powers, it acts illegitimately, violating its charter.
Personally, I find masks to be an inconvenience, but if it makes people feel better or could possibly protect against the spread of COVID-19, I don’t mind wearing one. I don’t see that as a dangerous violation of my rights. What is a dangerous violation of rights, however, is making masks a requirement and harassing and arresting people that don’t wear a mask outside when the government clearly does not have that authority.