Five people were cited and three of them arrested after not wearing masks during an outdoor worship gathering in Idaho on Wednesday.
Approximately 300 people assembled outdoors to sing psalms in front of city hall in Moscow, Idaho, a town of around 25,000 about 80 miles south of Spokane, Washington. The gathering, which was called a “flash psalm sing,” according to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, was organized by Christ Church, a prominent evangelical congregation in the area. The event, which was advertised on the church’s Facebook page, began at 4:45 p.m., and most had left within 30 minutes.
According to the Moscow city police’s daily activity log, those arrested were allegedly violating a “public health emergency order.” Among those handcuffed and driven away in a police car was Gabriel Rench, a Republican who is running for county commission. Rench was later released and spoke about the incident on his radio show, according to Breitbart.
Moscow Police Chief James Fry told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that the department had been “very lenient” with enforcing the order, “but at some point in time you have to enforce.” Fry did not immediately respond to The Daily Wire’s request for comment.
Apparently we're arresting people for singing hymns in America. pic.twitter.com/rR5oTmsrMI
— Matt (@carobini) September 24, 2020
In Moscow, Idaho city police arrested 3 people today at a Church Psalm sing. Craziness! pic.twitter.com/ddi2c7eaAx
— Jesse Sumpter (@jesse_sumpter) September 24, 2020
Christ Church senior pastor Douglas Wilson explained the incident on his personal blog, writing in part, “The first thing to note is that we had every legal and constitutional right to be there, and to do what we did. This was not an assembly of scofflaws. It really was a peaceful protest, a petition to our city government for a redress of grievances, and a religious assembly, all in one. Everything about it was proper. We sang three songs and the doxology, and then went home.”
Wilson went on to explain how the Moscow City Council recently extended its mask mandate into January, despite zero coronavirus deaths or hospitalizations. Altogether, Moscow’s Latah County has had only 346 COVID-19 cases total, according to The New York Times.
Wilson also mentioned that during a recent wedding where Moscow’s Mayor Bill Lambert officiated, masks were nowhere to be found. “At least one of our council members was in attendance, as was law enforcement. Masks, however, were not in attendance. If there was no virus hazard at that wedding (and there was not), then there was no virus hazard at our psalm sing yesterday (as there was not).”
“So we have every right to protest the high hypocrisy involved in all of this,” Wilson continued. “Not only so, but I believe we have a responsibility to do so. Having said that, I do want to mention that our protest was not conducted Portland style. The federal building is just a block away from city hall, and I can say that I was very proud of our people — not one of them tried to burn it down. Rather, we addressed this hypocritical and nonsensical law in a peaceful, orderly, law-abiding, and responsible way.”
Wilson also said the police officers who arrested the worshippers “should be heartily ashamed of themselves,” adding, “I know that our cops hate the position the city has put them in, and they have my sympathy as far as that goes. But they still need to review this question for themselves — how bad do the orders have to get before you do your duty by refusing to enforce them?”
Ben Zornes, a pastor at Christ Church, told The Daily Wire that it wasn’t just members of his church who were at the psalm sing, but also other members of the community.
Zornes said “the main point is that city council received numerous requests to not extend our mask mandate until January. They did not hear those complaints or answer pointed questions about what threshold is being used to determine when the masks will no longer be necessary.”
Despite the low cases of COVID-19 in the city, Zornes noted, “[t]he mayor and city council refused to clarify what metric would be used to repeal the mask mandate. The long and short is, we gathered to exercise our First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and petition our city council to reconsider their emergency ordinance and mask mandate. They’ve now responded by arresting upstanding citizens for not standing on their little dots and not conforming to their dress code.”