Elected officials have broad powers during a public health crisis, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to violate basic American rights for no good reason.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen some absurd attempts at using this newly broadened power to control citizens. Sitting on a park bench… alone: Illegal in Washington, D.C. Buying plant seeds for your garden in Michigan? Don’t even think about it.
But too often we have seen officeholders attempt to push otherwise unattainable and unconstitutional policy proposals through the stroke of a pen.
In Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba signed an executive order purporting to “suspend” the right to openly carry a firearm in the city. The right to openly carry a firearm in Mississippi is protected under the state constitution, and many courts have held that it is also protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
For obvious reasons, that right cannot be suspended simply because there is a public health crisis.
That is why the Mississippi Justice Institute, a constitutional litigation center and the legal arm of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy where I serve as director, has filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Dana Criswell, a state representative and longtime Second Amendment advocate.
Lumumba noted the recent shootings in Jackson to justify his action. He seems to be very troubled by increasing gun violence in the city. As he should be. But the recent spike dates back many years, it did not develop during the coronavirus outbreak.
And, as is usually the case, the shootings are done with guns that are acquired illegally by individuals who are not allowed to obtain a firearm. Not otherwise law-abiding citizens.
The courts have long held that if a government officials exploit a public health crisis as a pretext to target the constitutionally protected activity of their political enemies, their actions are unconstitutional.
Three days after the lawsuit was filed, Lumumba let his order expire without further action despite previously threatening to extend it.
But the mayor is not the only Mississippi mayor who has attempted to violate the constitutional right of the citizens. They are keeping those of us who defend the Constitution for a living busy.
Three weeks ago Mississippi Justice Institute, along with First Liberty Institute, filed a lawsuit against the city of Greenville over an emergency order issued by the town’s mayor and city council, which claimed to ban drive-in church services.
During the pandemic, most churches have moved to livestream services, but that doesn’t always work for every church, and for every member.
As the pandemic began to spread, the King James Bible Baptist Church in Greenville started to host services where members sat in their cars. The church went out of their way to follow Center for Disease Control and Mississippi Department of Health guidance.
Members would stay in their cars with their windows closed. Traditional shouts of “Amen” or “Hallelujah” turned into flashing lights or honking horns.
In the heart of the Bible Belt, police officers stood guard before an evening service outside the church parking lot, threatening to issue tickets to church members.
Less than 12 hours after the lawsuit was filed, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons said they were backing away from the church drive-in prohibition, and a week after that the city had updated its emergency declaration. Churches could continue to worship in their parking lot.
The irony of the executive order? King James Bible Baptist Church is down the road from a Sonic Drive-In, a popular fast-food restaurant where you place your order in your car and it is delivered to you via a carhop. Sonic remained open during this fight, and there was never an attempt to close that drive-in, only drive-in churches.
Constitutional rights do not disappear during a public health emergency. Americans have been very patient and compliant with the requests and orders from government officials during this crisis.
But when the government arbitrarily takes away constitutional rights, citizens in a free country must fight back.