Three Christians who were arrested during the COVID pandemic for singing hymns outside of City Hall in Moscow, Idaho, have been awarded a $300,000 settlement.
On September 23, 2020, Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet were arrested while their church, Christ Church, held a psalm sing in the Moscow City Hall parking lot. Police claimed that they had violated the city’s public health order by singing without a mask and not practicing social distancing. The officers also claimed that Rench and the Bohnets refused to identify themselves. A judge dismissed the charges.
The three filed a lawsuit in March 2021. In February of this year, U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. denied the city’s request to dismiss the suit and ordered Moscow to pay a settlement. England said,
“…the plaintiffs should never have been arrested in the first place, and the constitutionality of what the City thought [its] code said is irrelevant….Somehow, every single City official involved overlooked the exclusionary language [of constitutionally protected behavior] in the Ordinance.”
The city announced the settlement in a press release last week. “ICRMP [the city’s insurance provider] determined that a financial settlement in the case was the best course of action to dispose of the suit and avoid a protracted litigation proceeding. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, ICRMP will pay a total settlement amount of $300,000 and all claims against the City and the named City employees will be dismissed with prejudice along with a release of all liability,” the statement said.
Sean Bohnet said he was “happy that we came to a settlement and the case is over.” Bohnet and Rench say half of the settlement will go to attorney’s fees and they will have to pay taxes on the other part of the settlement.
Bohnet stated that they received unwanted public scrutiny following the arrest, explaining, “What’s frustrating is when slander and lies get involved. Like, ‘Oh, you guys do this, you support that, you support that.’ That’s the frustrating part when people slander and tell lies about us, which happened.”
Rench said that he didn’t take the city’s settlement as any form of admission of wrongdoing, adding that he was unhappy with “the city’s refusal to talk to me individually and to actually have a productive conversation about their actions during 2020 and violating their oaths of office. This wasn’t a minor thing; this was pretty egregious what the city did, and what the cops did. They all violated their oaths of office.”
Rench said he believes some in government are targeting Christians. “I’m in a conservative state, but I live in a liberal town, and the liberals had no problem arresting me for practicing my religious rights and my Constitutional rights. But my [Republican] governor also didn’t defend me either. If you look at what’s going on in Canada, I think America’s 10 years, at most 20 years, behind Canada if we don’t make significant changes,” speaking of the arrests of Canadian pastors during COVID.
Like the Canadian pastors, he said he has been falsely labeled as a rebel. “It’s actually the city of Moscow that was defying the law. I was obeying the law. The political system doesn’t want to give away their power, and they think if they admit they’re wrong, they look at that as like they’re losing their political power.”
During the first months of COVID especially but even into the following year many were terrified. What was COVID? How severe was it? How should we mitigate it? These were all questions the world was asking.
A large percentage of our country decided that it was better to trust the appointed experts and do whatever we were told, even if it meant giving away rights or handing over authority never before granted to American governments. Stay inside! Don’t go to church! Wear a mask! Meanwhile some Americans knew that what was taking place was a transference of power from the citizenry to government officials, both unelected and elected.
Early on we knew “two weeks to flatten the curve” was a dangerous lie. Soon so-called conspiracy theorists began questioning the efficacy of masks, the legality of stay-at-home orders, and the damage being done to our nation. Three years later, we now know that most masks were ineffective, stay-at-home orders did more harm than good, and the vaccines, which were presented as a panacea that would stop the transmission of COVID, were not as safe and useful as we were told. Not only that, but we now know that the highest authorities, the trusted experts, knew these things early in the COVID pandemic and lied to the American people.
This is why standing up to tyranny is so important and why lawsuits like this and settlements that force authoritarian governments to admit they were wrong are necessary to preserve our freedom.
We are a culture that loathes pain, trial, and perceived inequity. We demand that someone make our situation easier, protect us from pain, and make everyone the same. Whether it be COVID mandates; guaranteed healthcare; taxpayer-funded birth control, abortion, and gender reassignment surgery; reparations; or affirmative action, Americans must resist the urge to exchange freedom for security. Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
One need look no further than the atrocities of the Soviet Union or Communist China to see the harm of a government acting as a nanny state or the arbiter of “equity.” Rulings and settlements like this in Idaho help guard our freedom — and also help stem the tide of self-entitled socialism that would send us to the same tragic fate of those who bought into its false promises.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.