Police in Moscow City, Idaho, arrested three Christians and cited two others for participating in a “Psalm sing” outdoor worship service organized by a church earlier this week.
Gabriel Rench, a church deacon and Republican candidate for a Latah County commissioner seat in the November election, was one of the three who were arrested for participating in the worship event organized by Christ Church, according to Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
Moscow Police Chief James Fry was quoted as saying that none of the five cited were wearing masks or social distancing, and the arrests were made for suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer. Between 150 and 200 people attended the event.
According to the city’s Amended Public Health Emergency Order, attendees at any public gathering must maintain a 6-foot physical distance or cover their faces with a mask.
Ben Zornes, a pastor at the church who organized the event, was quoted as saying that the church hosts Psalm or hymn events about once a month and that the Psalm sing held at the city hall parking lot was also to show that residents wanted normalcy back.
Zornes called the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions “largely groundless."
On Thursday, the church wrote on its Facebook page: “Yesterday Christ Church sponsored a flash psalm sing at city hall. We were going to appear there at quarter to five, sing three psalms or hymns, then the doxology, and then out. The songs were Psalm 20, Psalm 124, and Amazing Grace. When we arrived, the police were waiting for us. One of them informed me that people either had to social distance or wear a mask or otherwise face a citation.”
Douglas Wilson, who wrote the post, added: “I told him that I would inform everyone of that, which I did. I said a brief prayer, and we began to sing. Over the following fifteen minutes of singing, three of our people were arrested, and two others were cited.”
Several states have restrictions in place on religious gatherings, which have led to legal battles for the religious freedom of churches and other houses of worship.
In California, several churches are fighting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 orders banning indoor services.
In an earlier statement, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver called Newsom’s orders “unconstitutional.”
“… Gov. Newsom supports tens of thousands of protestors, saying, ‘God bless you. Keep doing it.’ This is wrong, and the governor’s unconstitutional hostility and discrimination against religious worship must end,” he said.
In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed is only allowing one person at a time to enter houses of worship.
In response, the U.S. Justice Department on Friday sent a letter to the mayor saying that the city’s COVID-19 lockdown policy “is contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.”
The Justice Department said in its letter that Breed could not limit places of worship to a single congregant while “allowing multiple patrons in other indoor settings including gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares.”