(The Center Square) – While Washington’s stay-at-home order remains in place, Gov. Jay Inslee allowed a political opponent to hold a bible study on his lawn. And a Port of Seattle Police Officer and Special Forces veteran was suspended after he posted a video encouraging police to uphold their oaths to the U.S. Constitution.
The state is currently in phase 1 of its reopening plan with limited non-essential activities allowed under the executive stay-at-home order. Phase one allows for “drive-in spiritual services” and “many places of worship are offering services over the internet,” the governor’s coronavirus fact sheet states.
However, the First Liberty Institute and The North Creek Law Firm filed suit seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) on behalf of Joshua Freed over the governor’s “outright ban on religious gatherings of any size” during the state shutdown.
Freed sought to conduct one-on-one Bible studies and prayer on his front lawn following the social distancing guidelines of keeping six-feet apart between himself and the other person. The TRO was filed in the U.S District Court for the Western District of Washington.
“Prohibiting two people from meeting together to pray and read scripture while they follow all social distancing guidelines unconstitutionally targets religious activity,” Mark Lamb, owner and founder of North Creek Law Firm, argued.
“Criminalizing all religious gatherings outside of family members is an outrageous overreach that stifles religious liberty and violates the First Amendment,” Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel at First Liberty, said. “The Constitution forbids the government from singling out religious Americans for restrictions that are not imposed on other entities.”
The judge agreed. During a hearing, attorneys for the governor’s office notified Freed that he could have home Bible studies on a one-on-one basis.
“The Governor’s attorneys, during the proceeding, made various statements that indicate the Governor may not take any steps to enforce any shut down orders that affect religious activities even beyond the Bible study at issue,” Sasser said in a statement.
“Religious community, even one-on-one Bible study, is essential to many people of faith. We are grateful that, in this challenging time for our country, Governor Inslee was willing to concede that the ban does not apply to Joshua Freed’s home Bible study,” Lamb added.
Freed, who is running for governor, argues on his campaign website that citizens must demand “real results from Olympia to help our most vulnerable, make government more open and accountable and put an end to the backroom deals that benefit the few at the expense of the many.”
Separately, Port of Seattle officer Greg Anderson posted an 8-minute video, receiving more than one million views on several social media networks, encouraging his peers to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
“I’ve seen police officers nationwide enforcing tyrannical orders against the people," Anderson said. "I’m seeing people arrested and cited for going to church, traveling on the roadways, going to the park with their families.
“We don’t have the authority to do those things to people just because a mayor or a governor tells you otherwise,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s your sergeant or your chief of police, we don’t get to violate people’s constitutional rights because somebody in our chain of command tells us otherwise. That’s not how this country works.”
He read the Declaration of Independence, arguing that any government power is derived from the people. Police “stopping people to check their papers, what is this the Gestapo? Is this 1930s Germany?” he asked.
Anderson is now on administrative leave. A GoFundMe account has been created to help with his legal defense. As of May 14, more than $380,812 had been donated.