Two men were arrested at a Christian bookstore in England that stayed open to customers despite orders to close amid ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns that require businesses to remain closed until December.
The arrests were made by officers on Nov. 14 outside the Mustard Seed bookshop and tearoom in Gedling, Nottinghamshire, after the men refused to give their names and addresses to receive fines of $267 (£200) for being inside the business.
Officers went to the bookstore following reports that "40 to 50 people" had gathered inside, according to the BBC.
Following the incident, Nottinghamshire Police served a closure order to the bookshop and tearoom under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act, according to the Gedling Eye. The bookshop, authorities said, had remained open and people were inside in violation of the prohibition that only allowed it to operate as a takeaway.
The U.K. has been under a second nationwide lockdown in response to COVID-19 since Nov. 5.
Chris Stala, the Christian owner of the Mustard Seed, has already faced four fines totaling approximately $22,700 (£17,000) for disregarding the lockdown orders.
Stala maintains that the pandemic is exaggerated and believes that common law and the Magna Carta — the 1215 document long considered the source of much of Western law — is sufficient legal grounds to stay open. The owner had hoped that the bookshop could serve as a community hub to assist those struggling with mental health issues.
"I don't believe what I am doing is unlawful. I'm standing up for what is right and moral," she told the BBC.
The closure order, which was granted to the borough council's legal team by the Mansfield Magistrate Court, required the bookstore and tearoom to close down immediately under threat of fine, imprisonment, or both. The same penalties applied to anyone found entering the bookshop.
"Following repeated breaches of the notices we served on the Mustard Seed, which clearly stated that they need to follow the guidance and regulations during lockdown, we have no option but to close it down. We have given the owner several chances to do the right thing and they’ve made the decision to ignore our message. Things are now so serious that they risk imprisonment, which nobody wants to see," said Councillor John Clarke of the Gedling Borough Council, in a statement, according to the Gedling Eye.
"Our priority has always been to protect our residents and to support the many businesses that have been affected so badly by this pandemic yet are following the rules," he added. "It is clear, that the owner believes that they do not need to adhere to the government guidelines and we are now in this position. We would urge people not to visit the premises, it is closed and we will be monitoring it closely."
The Christian bookstore's closure comes as some pastors in the U.K. have started resisting lockdown measures and have decided to keep their churches open, believing that the restrictions are too extreme, The Guardian reports.
“I never thought I’d say this in Britain, but churches are going underground. These are not isolated cases — and the longer it goes on, more churches will join the movement,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, a conservative evangelical organization, and a member of the Church of England’s ruling body, the general synod.
Pastor Regan King, who leads Angel church, an evangelical congregation in north London, intends to continue to hold services with up to 15 people on Sunday after police intervened last Sunday to prevent a larger service last weekend.
“We’re not law breakers, we want to comply with the law as much as possible,” King said, adding that a "greater law" exists than those of the government.
Inspector Chris Pearson of Nottinghamshire Police said the action taken against the Mustard Seed bookstore "shows that no one is above the law when it comes to that and, working with our partners, we will not hesitate to take action against businesses which persistently flout the regulations set by the government, putting lives at risk and increasing the risk of the virus spreading," the Gelding Eye added.
"We all have an incredibly important responsibility to adhere to the rules to prevent the spread of this deadly disease."