Progressive-dominated college town to pay $300K to Christians arrested for outdoor church service during COVID restrictions

Very slowly, a reckoning is taking place for outrageous tyrannical government restrictions imposed on the populace during the COVID panic.  The zeal with which certain public officials tried to restrict basic freedoms in response to a virus with a tiny fatality rate for the non-elderly and non-infirm should stand as a lesson to all that our rights mean little or nothing to them and must be vigorously defended.

This story from Moscow, Idaho, a college town of about 25,000 that is home to the University of Idaho, is both good news and bad news.  Fox News reports:

The city of Moscow announced this week that it would settle with Gabriel Rench, as well as Sean and Rachel Bohnet, who brought a case against city leaders in March 2021 that alleged their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments were violated when they were arrested at an outdoor "psalm sing" conducted by leaders from their church in September 2020. (snip)

The peaceful psalm-singing protest lasted about 20 minutes in front of Moscow City Hall, where city officials had placed small yellow dots six feet apart as social distancing guidance for the participants.

Rench and the others were charged with violating the city's repeatedly extended health ordinance, which carved out exemptions for activities protected under the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho State Constitution, including religious activity.

A magistrate judge later dismissed the city's case against them, and U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., wrote in his Feb. 1, 2023 memorandum and order denying the city's motion to dismiss that 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 judge further wrote.

It seems the so-called "liberals" of this college town resent people who assert their rights against government overreach and oppression:

Rench told Fox News Digital that he has nevertheless become a pariah in his predominantly liberal community since the arrest and subsequent settlement. Rench says members of his community have accused him of being "an idiot" who does not "love his neighbor" and have urged him to "take your money and run" since the payout.

Unfortunately, the negative reinforcement for the city and for the bureaucrats with contempt for basic freedoms is pretty minimal, as KREM TV reports:

Under the terms of the settlement Moscow's liability insurance provider and Idaho Counties Risk Management Program will pay a total of $300,000 to Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet. All claims against the City and the named employees will be dismissed with prejudice, releasing them from any liability.

The city's budget is unaffected by the need to cough up 300 grand.  The city's insurance costs may rise, but that will be buried in an annual budget item and provide no negative feedback to the citizenry over their officials' misbehavior.  And the bureaucrats and police — who went along with the arrests even as some expressed regret — will suffer no personal penalty.  

A hint of the derision for this particular church that may exist among the academically inclined progressive folk of Moscow can be gleaned from this story almost two years ago, from the left-wing U.K. Guardian, which obviously had sources on the ground there.  The headline and first paragraphs read almost like a parody:

'Make it a Christian town': the ultra-conservative church on the rise in Idaho

Increased influence of Christ Church, whose leader wants to create US 'theocracy', comes as social conservatives aim to gain traction

A Guardian investigation has revealed that a controversial church whose leader has openly expressed the ambition of creating a "theocracy" in America has accumulated significant influence in the city of Moscow, Idaho. Christ Church has a stated goal to "make Moscow a Christian town" and public records, interviews, and open source materials online show how its leadership has extended its power and activities in the town.

Church figures have browbeaten elected officials over Covid restrictions, built powerful institutions in parallel to secular government, harassed perceived opponents, and accumulated land and businesses in pursuit of a long-term goal of transforming America into a nation ruled according to its own, ultra-conservative moral precepts.

For people with this paranoid, religion-hating mindset, religious oppression is not a bug, but a feature of the pandemic response.  It's why we must strive to call out those who abused their power so that they have a harder time doing it again, as they surely will try to do.  The Moscow settlement is a tiny step in that direction.

Photo credit: Steven PavlovCC BY-SA 3.0 license.

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