There have been many unintended, but not wholly unforeseen, consequences that have arisen in light of the lockdowns imposed on Americans in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s made criminals out of ordinary citizens trying to simply feed their families or keep a roof over their head. It has turned Sunday worshipers into lawbreakers, mostly as a result of overzealous public officials, law enforcement officers and judges who have seemingly lost sense of proportion.

Take Shelley Luther who owns a hair salon near Dallas, Texas, who was given a seven-day sentence for daring to open her hair salon in violation of shutdown orders (a phrase that should send a chill up your spine).

Luther owns Salon A La Mode and was cited and served with a cease-and-desist order from law enforcement officers in April.

At a rally on Sunday, she tore up her citation and declared “I’m not anyone special. I just know that I have rights. You have rights to feed your children and make income, and anyone that wants to take away those rights is wrong.”

She said she and some of her 19 stylists were behind on their mortgages. “It’s either come in and make money to be able to feed your family or stay home and freak out,” she said.

She appeared Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge Eric Moye for operating her business. She didn’t back down even when given an option to avoid jail time by Moye. But his option to avoid jail time was particularly distasteful, but at the same time quite instructive.

Moye told Luther to avoid jail time she needed to apologize and admit she was wrong.

“That you now see the error of your ways and understand that the society cannot function when one’s own belief in a concept of liberty permits you to flaunt your disdain for the rulings of duly elected officials,” Moye said. “That you owe an apology to the elected officials for whom you disrespected for flagrantly ignoring and, in one case, defiling their orders, which you now know obviously applies to you.”

Apologize for disrespecting elected officials? Excuse me, your honor, but disagreeing with public officials has long been an American right and has even frequently taken on the form of a “concept of liberty” called civil disobedience.

Too many people, Judge Moye apparently among them, have come to believe elected officials’ words and actions are never to be challenged. I am pretty sure we fought a war to avoid bowing to royalty.

Luther stood fast and strong.

“Judge, I would like to say that I have much respect for this court and laws, and that I’ve never been in this position before, and it’s not someplace that I want to be, but I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I’m selfish,” she said. “Because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids. So, sir, if you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then, please, go ahead with your decision, but I’m not going to shut the salon.”

In short order, she was sentenced to jail and fined $7,000. It was a ruling that outraged several prominent lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R., Texas, who tweeted: “7 days in jail for cutting hair?? This is NUTS. And government officials don’t get to order citizens to apologize to them for daring to earn a living.”

Luther was just the latest example of such overreach. Some drawing the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which is siding with Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Virginia after it filed suit when its pastor was served a summons by law enforcement officers.

The church’s offense was holding a well-spaced-apart, 16-person service on April 5 in a church that could hold 293 people. The summons claimed the church was violating the Virginia Constitution by not complying with state-imposed social distancing restrictions. Its pastor was threatened with jail or a $2,500 fine.

In a statement of interest, DOJ wrote: “The Commonwealth of Virginia has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and other workers to do the same.” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said “unlawful discrimination against people who exercise their right to religion violates the First Amendment, whether we are in a pandemic or not.”

DOJ’s interest in the case is in keeping within Attorney General William Barr’s April memo to DOJ’s U.S. Attorneys to “be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

One presumes that includes the right to “disrespect” politicians without being jailed.

Ruthenberg is a multiple award-winning columnist and writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Contact him at [email protected].


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