Stock Image. (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)
OAN’s Brooke Mallory
5:00 PM – Thursday, July 20, 2023
A primarily liberal college town in Idaho has agreed to pay $300,000 to three Christian churchgoers who sued the city after being imprisoned for failing to wear face masks or maintain social distance measures at an outdoor service during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The city of Moscow, Idaho, announced this week that it would settle the lawsuit with Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet, who filed a case against city officials in March 2021.
They asserted that their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments were violated when they were arrested at an outdoor “psalm sing” led by church leaders in September 2020.
Moscow, Idaho, is a community of around 25,000 inhabitants located approximately 80 miles south of Spokane, Washington. The church named in the lawsuit, Christ Church, is a small congregation of about 1,000 members that is part of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
At the time of the incident, Officers took Rench’s hymn book before hauling him away in handcuffs to the county jail, where he and others were kept for several hours, according to video of the arrests, which went viral and was blasted at the time on the Twitter platform.
The calm worship service lasted only 20 minutes in front of Moscow City Hall, where local authorities had put little yellow dots six feet apart to guide participants in COVID-19 6-feet-apart social distancing.
Rench and the other two were accused of breaching the city’s periodically amended health law. However, a magistrate court later dropped the city’s case against them.
U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., noted that the “plaintiffs should never 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 said that the situation in Moscow could be described as a sort of “microcosm” of concerns occurring throughout the country and overseas.
“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 [even] Canada,” he said, referencing the pastors who have been jailed in neighboring Canada recently for holding church services.
“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,” Rench said. “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.”
One thing that Rench said he learned from the whole incident is that “hardened” political leaders cannot be expected to modify their mental processes or political ideals.
“What needs to happen is the people need to change how they vote and disincentivize the targeting of Christians and those who are genuinely trying to defend the Constitution,” he maintained.
“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 release said, including that the settlement will “provide(s) 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.”
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