A liberal college town announced that it would pay $300,000 to a group of Christians in Idaho who were arrested for holding an outdoor church service without wearing masks during the pandemic.
The city of Moscow, Idaho — home to the University of Idaho — announced the settlement in the churchgoers’ civil lawsuit last week.
Three churchgoers with Christ Church sued the city after they were arrested in September 2020 at an outdoor “psalm sing” with their church outside Moscow City Hall. The singing protest lasted about 20 minutes. Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet filed the suit in March 2021, alleging that their First and Fourth Amendments rights were violated.
Footage of the arrests went viral on social media and showed police officers taking Rench’s hymnal away from him before handcuffing him and taking him and the two other people to the county jail. The three were detained at the jail for several hours.
Then-president Donald Trump condemned the arrests at the time, tweeting that Democrats want to shut churches down “permanently.”
The three were charged with violating the city’s public health emergency ordinance, but a judge dismissed the city’s case against them.
A federal judge later denied the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit from the three people arrested, noting that the city’s pandemic ordinance had an exception for activities protected by the Idaho and U.S. constitutions, such as religious services. The judge said the three never should have been arrested in the first place.
“Somehow, every single City official involved overlooked the exclusionary language [of constitutionally protected behavior] in the Ordinance,” the judge wrote.
Rench was a candidate for Latah County Commission when he was arrested.
“It’s actually the city of Moscow that was defying the law,” Rench said, according to Fox News. “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.”
He said he believes the government has started to target Christians more.
“I think it’s no secret that portions of our government and political groups are now starting to target Christians in a way that has never really happened in America or Canada,” Rench told Fox News.
“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,” he said.
Christ Church is a congregation of about 1,000 people and part of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
The city said its liability 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, the liability insurance provider “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 city said in a press release.
The city also said the settlement “provides closure of a matter related to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the City’s efforts to protect the public during an exceptionally trying time.”