By now you have heard of some excitement in our little town of Moscow, Idaho. One of my deacons and two of my parishioners were arrested Wednesday at a flash Psalm Sing at our city hall in protest of the recent renewal of a mask mandate. Yes, that’s right. Three people were arrested for singing Psalms (for like 15 minutes) and not social distancing or wearing masks.
To this point, there have been a few warnings given out, maybe a citation or two, but only threats of misdemeanors, certainly no mention of arrests. But apparently there was no real crime to adjudicate in town Wednesday, and our “peaceful protest” didn’t include enough Molotov cocktails or brick throwing.
What Did We Do and Why?
Rewind a little and zoom out. First off, it is our custom as a church to gather in the city square to sing several times a year. We usually do a Christmas carol sing around the holidays, and then occasional Psalm sings throughout the year. So first off, it’s worth noting that this is just something we do. Our people love singing Psalms, and occasionally we sing them out in public to invite our community to join us in worshiping our King. Jesus is Lord of Moscow, Idaho, and so we feel free to honor Him as such.
Second, over the summer there were three Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police rallies in downtown Moscow, and this was, as far as we could tell, not technically legal according to the various C0vid restrictions in place at the time. But a city permit was issued for at least one rally, and as far as I know, no arrests or citations were issued. So just to double check city consistency, we asked for a permit the next week for a flash Psalm sing at that time, and we were granted it. The permit had been filled out when we received it, limiting our gathering to 50 people, but the BLM rallies were certainly not concerned about exceeding 50, so we probably had a couple hundred. But no one bothered us, no police officers present that I recall, and as you might expect in a city in America, no citations, no arrests for singing Psalms in the city square, no social distancing, no masks. And, we might as well note: nobody got the dreaded kohvid. That was July.
Around the same time the mayor’s first declared emergency order requiring masks and social distancing was issued on July 2. His order was ratified by our city council shortly thereafter. Despite public objection, the mandate was ordered through the beginning of October. This bring us up to the present.
But Wait There’s More
I need to fill you in on a couple of other details. First, as I noted above, apart from some heavy-handed pressure from cops to college age kids, mostly girls from what I hear, there was no significant enforcement. I’ve walked around downtown for months, often with friends, and have walked by police officers numerous times without so much as a howdydo, which come to think of it, is a bit disappointing. But I have never once worn a mask during these rueful times of Ye Great Mayoral Mandate. But a few weeks back, a couple of cousins were walking down the sidewalk together and they were accosted by a couple of cops who wanted to know if they were related. When they explained that they were cousins, the cops told them they would need to social distance, since they were not from the same immediate family. The young people being faithful and zealous Christians and all explained that they would not do that. The cops flexed their law enforcement muscles a bit, and the young people were cheerful and respectful and firm, doing us all proud. I don’t remember all the details, but I believe the scene climaxed after they were given an “official warning,” and then once more told they needed to social distance, when the reply came again that they would not, the cops said they would have to issue them misdemeanors, and the young people cheerfully informed the cops that they understood, but they weren’t budging. The cops then said they were going to drive around the block (counting to 3) and if they were still not social distancing, they would issue the aforementioned misdemeanor. The young people said they would wait cheerfully for their return (somewhat nostalgically, I suppose) while not social distancing in the slightest. The cops drove away, and the young people waited. And waited. And after a number of minutes (at about 3 and 15/16ths), they concluded that the cops had been called to more important business and would not be returning after all. There may have been a slight disappointment in their hearts, but they managed to keep a stiff upper lip and move on.
The point of this interlude is simply to note and underline that heretofore, the cops have been a minor nuisance but have mostly seemed to understand that this is all a bunch of sillyweed. To those few desperate detractors out there claiming this was all a political stunt, the fact of the matter is that we routinely have psalm sings out in public. We have routinely done so without being molested or harassed or arrested. And in the face of the mask mandate, everything has be warnings, maybe a couple of citations, threat of misdemeanor and fines, but nothing whatsoever about arrests. No one went to city hall on Wednesday expecting to be arrested. Not even Gabe. In fact, Gabe was expected home shortly after 5pm with a few extra groceries for his wife. After he was released from jail a few hours later, he found a nice text from his wife letting him know not to worry about the groceries. And of course she added that she was quite proud of him. As we all are.
And Another Thing
Another reason why the mask mandate is ridiculous is because the Moscow Police Department and Moscow city council know it’s ridiculous. They don’t really believe there is any public health emergency. The police are not dashing about our streets with steel in their eyes protecting us from that nefarious deadly virus. They have not been running security drills or reconnaissance missions in Friendship Square. No tanks or armored vehicles have rolled past my office on Main St. The hospital is not full or overflowing. The local graveyard is not a mess of dirt piles and coffins and funerals. There is nothing remotely approaching emergency in our streets or on the horizon. And this is because for those under 70, there is an over 99% recovery rate. They wouldn’t be able to gin up an actual emergency even if the mayor ordered mandatory licking of all doorknobs.
But with the mask mandate expiration looming, the city council met this last Monday night and without anything remotely resembling science to appeal to, and in the face of numerous citizens pleading with them not to renew or extend the order, they defied the citizenry that elected them and extended the order to the beginning of January. Remember, we live in a tiny town of 20K people in Idaho. Not exactly a densely packed metropolis, unless you count the potatoes. There have been a few hundred confirmed cases in our county of the BadFlu-2 and zero deaths. Did I mention zero hospitalizations? (Ok, maybe one) But I do know that there are two overflow tents that could fit maybe five people each sitting vacant and mournful outside the hospital for lo these many months, the haunt of stray cats breeding into some kind of feral nightmare as we speak.
Where was I? Ah, and to top it all off, there are growing stories and rumors of our mayor and city council members also not living like they are in anything close to a real emergency. They, like most other normal human beings in our community, are trying to go about their lives normally. Our mayor officiated a wedding on September 5 with at least one council member present as well as law enforcement and (like normal human) beings did not social distance or wear masks. Does the deadly virus travel through the air at weddings? Does it know the difference between private property and city hall? I’m so confused. Ok, I’m not really confused. Anyone with eyes to see can see exactly what’s going on. A bunch of our leaders have their pants on fire.
So what’s a Christian community to do in the face of such injustice, hypocrisy, and double standards?
Sing Psalms Of Course
Why? Because Psalms are the battle hymns of the Church, the War Songs of Christ. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in heavenly places. Worship is our warfare. So we scheduled a flash Psalm sing protest.
Abraham ran bombing runs through Canaan, building altars throughout the land, claiming it for his descendants in faith, and we do the same, offering sacrifices of praise, the fruit of our lips. Joshua sent the ark around Jericho for a week until the walls came tumbling down. Jehoshaphat sent the choir out as the vanguard of the army of Israel, and God set ambushes for their enemy (2 Chron. 20:22). Our city belongs to Jesus, and our city is currently in high defiance of His reign, on a number of fronts, but certainly on this matter of declaring a health emergency when there is manifestly not an emergency, by requiring perfectly healthy young people to pretend they are sick and/or contagious, and meddling in the private lives and decisions and responsibilities of thousands.
As I told the police officers as they were arresting Gabe and Sean and Rachel Wednesday night, what they were doing was not lawful. The First Amendment does not get suspended for a bad flu. The First Amendment protects our right to free speech, to peaceful assembly, to worship unmolested, and to petition for redress of grievances. We were doing all four of those things Wednesday. In fact, what we were was completely legal even by Moscow code and the Mayor’s sham emergency order. It is completely legal even with the silly order in place, for us to assemble, to speak freely, and exercise our freedom of religion. What was illegal and unjust was the infringement of those God-given rights. The police officers and Police chief who participated in the arrests should be ashamed of themselves and apologize for not actually enforcing the true law of the land with any kind of equity, consistency, or truth. They should also apologize for not reading or knowing Moscow city code and merely bowing to the dictates of bureaucrats. I would urge the Christians on the force in particular to read the constitution and city codes carefully. Those of us protesting actually have the law on our side. Any harassing or hindering of our gatherings is illegal and unlawful, even without social distancing or masks.
So, we will be doing the same thing again tonight at 5pm at city hall. We will be singing the War Songs of Jesus. Pray for us. Pray for our law enforcement to do justice. Pray for our city council and mayor. Pray that God would open eyes to the truth, and that many would come to know Him. And if you’re not local, tune in and sing along, there should be live feeds for the event.