Sheriff Ronnie Fields and District Attorney Maureen Krueger chose recently what laws they wish to enforce and then bragged about it with press releases.
Last Friday, both Fields and Krueger issued separate statements saying they would not enforce Gov. Roy Cooper’s “stay at home” order as it relates to churches. The order effectively prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people except in businesses deemed “essential,” provided social distancing and other requirements are met.
“I believe with all my heart that with what we are facing in this world today, we need God in our lives now more than ever,” Fields said in his release. “As such, it is my personal belief that our people should be able to assemble and worship in the house of the Lord whenever they wish. Neither I nor any member of the Moore County Sheriff’s Office will interfere with or attempt to disrupt any worship service in this county.”
Said Krueger: “When secular activities are given greater deference and freedom than religious activities, such law is unconstitutional. Therefore, it is my opinion that the arrest or charge of a person for violating the governor’s order as it relates to religious worship is unconstitutional. In the event charges are brought, I can and will do what I believe my oath and the Constitution requires.”
A Failure of Faith
Churches had effectively been shuttered since March, most of their own choosing initially — before politics began to seep into and taint public health. Faith leaders took to the internet and broadcast Easter season services to their congregations, knowing full well that they could not risk exposing large gatherings to the highly contagious and largely unknown effects of the coronavirus.
But over the last few weeks, beginning on the fringes and then spreading, some small-church leaders and politicians seized upon the “reopening” theme. To them, a “stay at home” order was little more than a thinly veiled attempt by the “left” to undermine and weaken conservatives who closely align their faiths with their politics.
Mind you, Cooper’s order did not prohibit churches from holding services and worshiping. It just precluded gathering in large numbers. Granted, that turns the nature of church-as-community on its head. And for those used to celebrating a weekly communion, a digital service was not the same.
However, law enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing laws and maintaining order, not judging which measures are correct and which are not. Personal feelings — and political sensibilities — have no place.
Enforce All Laws Equally
Cooper’s “stay-at-home” order took effect March 30. If Krueger and Fields felt it was such an injustice and clearly unconstitutional, why did they not issue their statements in time for Easter services?
And why now? North Carolina could move to a “Phase 2” of reopening — in which churches could renew in-person services — by this weekend. This makes Krueger’s and Fields’ statements even more self-serving.
If Krueger or Fields suddenly felt like marijuana should be legal, like it is in several other states, could they say they choose not to enforce the current criminal laws on the books? Krueger’s and Fields’ statements were little more than political panderings that sound a dangerous note that enforcement of law and order is not equal in Moore County. Would they have taken these positions if Republican Pat McCrory were still governor? Doubtful.
As it was, a federal judge just a day later issued a temporary ruling lifting Cooper’s order in regard to churches, deeming it a constitutional violation.
That is why we have judges. Until a judge rules, though, law officers must uphold all laws and maintain order, not just the matters on which they concur or fall in line with their political affiliations.