In the midst of a pandemic, the struggle between religious freedom and public health measures has given rise to numerous legal battles across the United States.
But what happens when a liberal college town finds itself at the crossroads of this contentious issue?
In the city of Moscow, Idaho, an unexpected turn of events unfolded, with three churchgoers taking their fight for religious freedom to the courts after being arrested for hosting an outdoor church service without masks.
The incident, which quickly gained nationwide attention, culminated in the town agreeing to pay out a staggering $300,000 in a civil lawsuit.
The journey to this resolution weaves a compelling story of faith, constitutional rights, and the blurred lines of public safety regulations.
At its heart is Christ Church and its members, who found themselves at odds with local law enforcement during a time of crisis.
Arrested, detained, and charged under the city’s public health emergency ordinance, the members stood their ground, alleging infringement of their First and Fourth Amendment rights.
We’ll dig deeper into this incredible case below:
VICTORY: Three Christians arrested while maskless at an outdoor church service during the pandemic are being paid $300,000 by the city of Moscow, Idaho. https://t.co/AGT5ZAF495
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) July 21, 2023
PRESS RELEASE: City of Moscow Waste Tax Payers Money on Defending Unconstitutional COVID Mandates
July 17, 2023
Press Contact: Pengo Media
[Moscow, Idaho] – On June 2, 2023 mediation settlement awarded Gabriel Rench et al $300,000 for violating their… pic.twitter.com/AL75ynmQ2c
— Waterboy (@GMRench) July 17, 2023
THIS IS WHERE I GRADUATED A liberal college town Moscow, Idaho is paying $300,000 to three Christian churchgoers who sued the city after being arrested for not wearing masks at an outside service, staying 6’ apart, during the height of COVID-19 pandemic. https://t.co/QnAbX4KUTB
— Jim Weed (@JimBobW49) July 21, 2023
But, was it really about the masks, or were there deeper issues at stake?
Why did the court dismiss the case against these churchgoers?
How did former President Donald Trump react to the incident?
And in the wake of this legal victory, what does one of the churchgoers, Gabriel Rench, think about the government’s role in religious affairs?
Here’s what the Daily Wire had to say:
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.Advertisement
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.
But does this financial settlement truly provide closure?
Or is it a smoke screen, an easy way out for the city while avoiding admission of any wrongdoing?
Notably, the issue doesn’t stop at the settlement.
Douglas Wilson, senior pastor of Christ Church, whose family is still embroiled in legal strife with the city authorities, draws a chilling parallel.
He sees a connection between his family’s experience and broader concerns of governmental overreach, particularly concerning religious freedoms.
This is good to see. @Christ_Kirk church members who were arrested in Moscow, Idaho during the pandemic for signing hymns in an outdoor "protest" will receive a settlement from the city. https://t.co/FKpPu1RPHt
— Family Research Council (@FRCdc) July 21, 2023
Remember the Covid worship arrests in Moscow Idaho back in September 2020?
The people arrested SUED Moscow Police.
Today a settlement agreement was announced.
— JLR© (@JLRINVESTIGATES) July 15, 2023
Church in Moscow, Idaho, had members arrested in 2020 for singing psalms outdoors unmasked.
— The Old School Theology Show (@TheologyShow) July 21, 2023
This story poses a pivotal question: Are private citizens, like Wilson’s family, being unfairly pressured by the seemingly limitless resources of government?
Are financial settlements merely a tactic to avoid a deeper examination of the issues at hand?
These questions delve into the heart of this ongoing battle, offering a revealing insight into a case that’s about far more than just face masks and pandemic regulations.
Per Fox News:
According to a press release provided to Fox News Digital, the city said its liability insurance provider, Idaho Counties Risk Management Program (ICRMP), “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, 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, adding that 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.”
Douglas Wilson, who serves as senior pastor of Christ Church, told Fox News Digital that his family remains in a legal battle with city authorities since his son and two grandsons were hit with misdemeanor charges for protesting the arrests by placing stickers on city utility poles, which are replete with many other stickers.
In March 2021, Wilson’s grandsons, who were 18 and 14 at the time, slapped the poles with stickers that depicted a hammer and sickle and were emblazoned with the phrase “Soviet Moscow, enforced because we care,” a reference to the city’s COVID-19 and mask mandate slogan. Wilson expects the case to reach the Idaho Supreme Court.
Wilson said there is a “straight-line connection” between what his family and church have been experiencing in Moscow and the wider concerns with regard to President Biden’s Department of Justice targeting people of faith. He said private citizens increasingly face the threat of being “run into the ground” by the limitless financial resources of the government at all levels.
So what do you think?
Was the settlement enough?
Now that the pandemic is over, it’s easier for more people to look back with clear eyes and see some of the wrong things that were done.
It’s not about shaming our history.
It’s about learning from our history so that we can be better.