Three Christians were arrested in Moscow City, Idaho for not wearing masks and not social distancing while taking part in an outdoor worship service.
Two others at the worship service were issued citations for also not wearing masks.
Moscow Police Chief James Fry told reporters that some 150 to 200 attended the church event.
According to the city’s Amended Public Health Emergency Order, attendees at any public gathering must maintain a 6-foot physical distance or wear a mask. The order is in effect until January.
Violators of the order are subject to a misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Fry said police have been “very lenient” on enforcing the order and officers have tried to work with groups on the policy.
Christ Church hosts a “Psalm sing” or hymn event about once a month.
“We were going to appear there at quarter to five, sing three psalms or hymns, then the doxology, and then out,” said Ben Zornes, a pastor at the church who helped organize the outdoor event.
“The songs were Psalm 20, Psalm 124, and Amazing Grace. When we arrived, the police were waiting for us. One of them informed me that people either had to social distance or wear a mask or otherwise face a citation.”
Another church representative said on the church’s Facebook page that the crowd was reminded of the city policy, but within the first 15 minutes of worship, police arrested three and issued citations to two others.
Gabriel Rench, a church deacon and Republican candidate for a county commissioner seat, was one of the three who were arrested, according to Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
“I think [officials] wanted to make an issue out of it,” Rench told a local news station.
“They wanted to flex their muscles because we had already done psalm sings in the past and they wanted to make an example of us. We weren’t warned — no warnings, no nothing, and so we were just taking our constitutional liberties to do what we’re allowed to do under the Constitution — worship.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Stevan Ovicigor
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.