While it’s true that North Carolina technically began phase one of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s “reopen” plan late last week, it really hasn’t felt like a reopen plan – and that’s for good reason:
It’s not one.
Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself:
— Jim Blaine (@JimBlaine) May 6, 2020
Some sheriffs and district attorneys across the state have decided Cooper’s orders preventing indoor church gatherings and most small businesses from reopening have gone on long enough – and are pushing back:
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said he would lay down his badge and go home before stopping the citizens of the county from assembling at church. https://t.co/mCp8qzTFFF
— CBS 17 (@WNCN) May 13, 2020
Here’s the letter Johnston County Sheriff Bizzell wrote explaining his position:
The sheriff of Johnston county says his officers will not enforce the Governor’s church ban. pic.twitter.com/KwQWe1B64x
— Mark Garrison (@MarkGarrisonWBT) May 14, 2020
Johnston County is one of those areas of North Carolina that should be given more latitude to reopen in a more aggressive way than how Gov. Cooper says should be done statewide, and here’s why:
Here are our updated COVID-19 statistics. Visit our COVID-19 dashboard for more information at https://t.co/OrGGAPsZ9P.
Aquí están nuestras estadísticas actualizadas de COVID-19. Visite nuestro panel de control COVID-19 para obtener más información. pic.twitter.com/eLUshk4fWW
— Johnston County, NC (@jocogovNC) May 13, 2020
Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes has taken a similar position to Bizzell’s:
Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes calls on Governor Cooper to permit indoor church services, saying he will not interfere or prevent church goers from peaceably assembling and exercising their constitutional right to freely worship. https://t.co/264SlhTFDU
— Dave Jordan (@DaveJordanWITN) May 13, 2020
He wrote a statement on Facebook detailing his position on the issue:
Message from Sheriff:Our pastors and church leaders have been patient and have adhered to government authority thus…
As it is for Johnston County, the case numbers for Craven County make the case for allowing them to deviate from the official statewide plan:
Craven County has 79 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of 11 AM on May 14, 2020. Of the 79 cases, 7 have been related to out of state travel, 23 are from community transmission, and 49 are a direct contact with a previously confirmed positive. More info: https://t.co/Mo7OHBBCe2 pic.twitter.com/emeCULT6Al
— Craven County NC (@cravencountync) May 14, 2020
In Polk County, the district attorney has said he will not prosecute any business owner who reopens, and is discouraging local law enforcement officers from arresting them:
Polk County: Paul’s Barbershop was open Wednesday in Columbus, despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s orders for beauty salons and barber shops to remain closed
DA Greg Newman said shops should be allowed to be open and he will not prosecute.https://t.co/QLPRsW72YU
— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) May 14, 2020
WLOS also reported that Columbus Police Chief Scott Hamby told them he gave the barbershop owner featured in their piece “two verbal warnings, but will not do anything further.”
Randolph County District Attorney Andrew Gregson is pushing back, too:
“As it relates to religious worship the governor’s order gives preferential treatment to secular gatherings, particularly retail shopping” Gregson says in the letter.
Gregson says his oath of office says he bears the burden of supporting and defending the U.S. and N.C. Constitutions. He says the order cannot survive strict scrutiny under constitutional analysis and violates both constitutions.
“I cannot prevent charges from being brought against someone exercising religious beliefs in Randolph County, but I can and will do what I believe the Constitution requires when charges are brought. As I advised law enforcement in March, it is my opinion that the arrest or charge for violating the governor’s order is an unconstitutional act” Gregson says in closing.
As I’ve previously written, questions have been asked by state Republican leaders as to the ever-evolving metrics Cooper and health officials at the county and state levels are using to make determinations on changes to the state’s stay at home orders including the phased reopening plan.
Not only are those questions not being answered beyond the canned “out of an abundance of caution” response, but daring to even ask them in the first place leads to Orwellian-esque responses from state Democratic leaders who take the troubling “just trust us” approach when it comes to state-level decisions about people’s lives and livelihood.
All that said, one Twitter user has figured out a way to possibly resolve the church gatherings issue that could go a long way towards bridging the divide:
What if churches just started meeting at Walmart?
— Jon Brown (@JonBrownDC) May 13, 2020
Gov. Cooper is holding his daily Wuhan coronavirus press briefing at 3pm ET today. Will be interesting to see if he gets asked about any of these developments and if so, how he responds. If history is a reliable indicator, his responses will not go over well with reopen proponents, and with local leaders who have no desire to arrest people who simply want to go to church, and to be able to work.