Virginia Governor makes it a criminal offense punishable by jail to go to attend church services of more than 10 people

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Richmond, VA – Virginia governor Ralph Northam has made it a criminal offense to attend church services of more than 10 people. The governor’s executive order went into effect in the commonwealth on Tuesday, March 24, making any non-essential gatherings a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of $2,500.

Executive Order 53 states “All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide, beginning at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

This does not include gatherings that involve the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.”

The executive order expires at 11:59 p.m. on April 23, 2020, and is subject to change at any time in response to ongoing concerns for public health during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the order, Northam required all restaurants, breweries, food courts, farmers markets, and bars to close to the public, and shift to delivery and takeout only. Only retail businesses deemed “essential” were permitted to remain open.

 
Let’s stop for a second and think about this…liquor stores re essential and remain open. Churches are ordered to be closed.  What kind of sick, bizzaro world does Northam live in? 
 
While we are looking at the details, here is a detail that Northam needs to be reminded of.
 
Hey Ralph, there’s this little thing called the 1st Amendment. 
 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 
While we all know that the governor is not Congress, it is still a fact that, whether at the federal, state and local level, legislators are to make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or the free exercise of it.   

“Any brick-and-mortar retail business not listed above must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment, adhere to social distancing recommendations, sanitize common surfaces, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.”

“If any such business cannot adhere to the 10-patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close,” the order said.

Businesses that are found to be in violation of Executive Order Fifty-Three “may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.” In Virginia, Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable with “confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.”

Unlike other jurisdictions where similar shutdown orders have been issued, places of worship–of any creed or belief–have not been labeled as essential in Virginia, and are subject to this order. 

“Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship,” states a webpage of frequently asked questions about Executive Order 53 on the state government website. 

“Places of worship that do conduct in-person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.”

Many parishes have opted to live-stream liturgies in lieu of in-person attendance. 

Many evangelical mega-churches in Northern Virginia have also shifted their services to online-viewing only.

In a press release about the executive order, Northam called the pandemic an “unprecedented situation” which “requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives.” 

“I know the next several weeks will be difficult. These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected.

But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together,” he said. 

Virginia has had 391 identified cases of the virus, with nine deaths, as of Wednesday morning.

The same day, Cincinnati Police officers are going to be amending the manner in which they respond to certain calls, all due to the developing issues revolving around COVID-19.

So, in essence, numerous crimes will go without law enforcement intervention…but show up at church during this difficult time, you can go to jail. 

This is hardly surprising, since Law Enforcement Today has extensively reported on several police departments changing how they respond to certain crimes reported during the period of the pandemic.

Much like other departments before them, the CPD intends to prioritize certain calls over others.

In tandem with said prioritization, manners of how officers respond will be altered. Essentially, determining whether an officer will be dispatched on site or not.

The department was steadfast in letting the public know that just because there’s going to be an alteration from a physical and administrative aspect, this will not deter how the department investigates complaints of criminal activity.

In some instances, individuals who call into the city’s 911 line will be redirected to submitting a report either online or in person at the station.

CPD Chief Eliot Isaac recently spoke about the new guidelines they’re adopting, hoping to put the public at ease:

“Our recently implemented Differential Response Plan is intended to limit the exposure of our officers and the public to [COVID-19] and our desire is to continue to provide the highest level of police service, while maximizing our efficiency and effectiveness.”

The CPD did offer insight into the types of calls where units will be no longer immediately dispatched. The examples provided were:

  • Reported assaults where medical attention isn’t required and the suspect is no longer in the area
  • Reports of breaking and entering when there’s no immediate suspect in sight or no chance of property being immediately recovered
  • Reports of “menacing” of a non-domestic violence connotation *unless it is believed that the menacing suspect will return
  • Reported thefts totaling under $5,000 if there’s no possibility of arresting the suspect or property cannot be recovered immediately *unless the property stolen was a firearm
  • Any instance of criminal or property damage
  • Dog bites
  • Over the phone harassment
  • Lost/missing property (to include a stolen license plate)

The aforementioned reported offenses should be reported at www.cincinnati-oh.gov/police/online-reporting, or they can also be reported by calling into the non-emergency line at 513-352-2960.

In Chief Isaac’s roll out of the new plan, he further reiterated that instances of immediate danger would get a unit dispatched, regardless of the call:

“To be clear, all of the calls for service listed in Differential Response Plan will be policed adequately and dealt with to remove/resolve the illegal acts.  None of those illegal acts are condoned and all will be suppressed/resolved. 

In addition, assaults and all physical harm and immediate threats to property will be responded to in person when requested.”

On top of the shift in response priorities, officers are going to also be meeting complainants outside their residences instead of coming indoors under certain circumstances. While that would be on a case by case basis, the department considered it worth noting.

Furthermore, officers will now be riding solo inside patrol units, instead of having an additional officer ride in the passenger seat. A common sense approach to internally adopt “social distancing” while policing.

The CPD noted in their statement that just because there’s an active pandemic, this won’t stop them from providing a valuable public service:

“It is important to stress that the Cincinnati Police Department has a dedicated workforce that is committed to doing everything possible to provide police services during the [COVID-19] crisis.”

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While CPD is amending policing to conform with the reality of COVID-19, other departments have poked fun at various “shutdowns” that have cropped up over the virus. 

While we at Law Enforcement Today are aware that the risks associated with COVID-19 are serious, it’s refreshing to see law enforcement inject humor into the gravity of the virus.

If you’ve scrolled through various social media sites lately, you may have seen what we’re talking about.

Various official social media accounts for police departments have used the platforms to kindly ask criminals to not commit crimes while cities and departments tackle the viral outbreak.

If you’re unaware of the humor, it obviously an ironic sort of rallying cry.

Several police departments have poked fun at the massive amount of posts online providing guidance on what to do in light of COVID-19.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock in the past few weeks, you’ve likely seen every kind of social media personality, verified company account, or some random person among your friend list doling out advice.

We’ve seen calls related to reiterating that people wash their hands properly, requests to avoid social gatherings of a certain size, to cover your mouth when coughing, and so on.

Because, as we all know, when someone is asked to do such things via shared posts then everyone follows suit (insert sarcasm).

As a result, police departments figured they’d get in on that kind of action. While it’s an obvious joke, it also can’t hurt to give it a shot either.

Some of the captioned posts were simply gems, like the following from the Kenosha Police Department:

“Due to the growing concern over the flu, Coronavirus and other sicknesses, the decision was made to cancel all crime in the Kenosha area. We are unsure when this ban will be lifted.”

The Powell County Sheriff’s Office also got in on the hijinks, with a little bit more quip at the end than most posts:

“Due to the coronavirus, the Sheriff’s department is asking that all criminal activities stop until further notice. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in the matter. We will update you when we deem it’s appropriate to proceed with yo bad selves.”

On top of posts by police solely for entertainment purposes, some departments shared posts that were inadvertently funny.

At least that was the case for the Newport, Oregon Police Department.

The NOPD had to share on Facebook that people cannot dial 9-1-1 simply because they ran out of toilet paper.

They even offered insight into alternatives to toilet tissue when nature calls:

“Seamen used old rope and anchor lines soaked in salt water. Ancient Romans used a sea sponge on a stick, also soaked in salt water. We are a coastal town. We have an abundance of salt water available. Sea shells were also used.”

In instances such as these, sometimes we all need a good laugh at the chaos going around. It’s great to see that our police officers are not only providing security for us throughout this time, but can offer us some mental respite with the ongoing pandemic.

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