U.S. Attorney General William Barr has threatened to take legal action against state officials who violate people’s civil rights by taking draconian measures to enforce stay-at-home orders.
On Monday, Barr sent a two-page memo to federal prosecutors asking them to consider legal action against state and local governments that infringe upon citizens’ civil liberties as they enforce state lockdown policies in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” the memo reads.
In the past several weeks, orders restricting the types of businesses that can open and places people can gather have forced millions of people to stay home and numerous businesses, organizations and places of worship to suspend or alter their operations.
Barr’s memo acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has “required the imposition of extraordinary restrictions on all of our daily lives.”
However, he cautioned that even in “times of emergency, the First Amendment and federal law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.”
Barr’s memo comes as churches in several states and localities have filed lawsuits in recent weeks against state and local authorities as some services have been shut down during the pandemic and citations have been issued to pastors and churchgoers.
The churches claim that bans against large gatherings that don’t exempt in-person or drive-in worship services but allow people to pack into big-box stores violate their freedom of religion as guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Barr warned in his memo that legal restrictions on state and local authorities are “not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers” as there are other types of civil rights violations that can occur.
“For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy,” he wrote.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith