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Christians Win $300,000 After Court Ruled City Violated First Amendment In COVID-19 Arrests

The City of Moscow, Idaho, agreed to pay $300,000 to several Christians who were arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic for refusing to wear masks during an outdoor church service, according to a press release.

Gabriel Rench and Sean and Rachel Bohnet were arrested in September 2020 for singing at an outdoor worship service without masks and subsequently filed a lawsuit in March 2021, The Associated Press reported. A U.S. District Court judge ruled in February that the city had “erred” in making the arrests and the city agreed in July to pay Rench and the Bohnets $300,000 in a settlement, according to the press release.

“Arresting peaceful Christian worshippers exercising their constitutionally protected rights is a serious threat to freedom. Public health orders are not a means to circumvent the First Amendment,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in the press release. “There is no pandemic pause button on the Constitution. Thankfully, our Constitution protects our religious freedoms from government overreach.”

In March 2020, the city approved an ordinance that allowed the mayor the enact city-wide emergency orders during the pandemic, resulting in a directive being issued that required citizens to wear a face mask in “any indoor or outdoor public setting where the 6-foot physical distancing is not able to be maintained with non-household members” or in “places that are open to the public,” according to the February ruling. Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. noted in the decision that the city had failed to adhere to the ordinance’s requirement that the mayor “make explicit that the Order was intended apply to all constitutionally protected expressive and associative activity as well.”

England ruled that the city did not include “expressive activity” under the list of behaviors that were barred during the city’s COVID-19 ordnance, and therefore there were no grounds for an arrest.

“Plaintiffs should never have been arrested in the first place, and the constitutionality of what the City thought its Code said is irrelevant,” England wrote. “Absent violation of the Order or any other law, it is also unclear what justification existed for requiring Plaintiffs to identify themselves or for charging them with obstruction.”

The City of Moscow did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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