In the Baltimore suburb of Dundalk, Pastor Stacey Shiflett made some headlines recently when he stood at the lectern in the Calvary Baptist Church and tore up a cease and desist order he’d received from the government. Declaring that his congregation was “going to do it God’s way,” he insisted that if Walmart could be open, then his church would serve the needs of the congregation. He proceeded to do just that on the following Sunday, while ensuring that congregants observed social distancing rules and had their temperatures taken upon arrival.
Good to their word, the government turned around and levied a fine on the Pastor. But now, one of Maryland’s congressmen is vowing to have the Department of Justice launch an investigation unless the fine is rescinded by Tuesday. (CBS Baltimore)
A Maryland congressman says he will ask the Department of Justice to investigate a fine placed on a Dundalk church after it operated during the coronavirus stay at home order. In a statement to WJZ, Republican Congressman Andy Harris said, “If Baltimore County does not withdraw the fine by the time of the hearing on Tuesday, I do intend to ask the DOJ to investigate.”
Sunday services were held at Calvary Baptist Church on May 24 despite the county’s order.
“Our people were just ready to come back to church,” said Pastor Stacey Shiflett, with Calvary Baptist Church.
It’s unclear exactly what the Department of Justice could do about this even if they do open up an investigation. The church was operating in defiance of an order from Baltimore County. Both the city and the county still have such orders in place and the feds would have a hard time overruling them. I suppose it’s possible that the Justice Department could attempt to file a lawsuit on the church’s behalf, but the more direct and more likely route would be for the church’s attorney to initiate such a procedure.
The better question to address here is the hypocrisy on display in enforcing such an order on a church at this time. Calvary Baptist is a rather large church with a maximum seating capacity of more than six hundred people. Restricting them to ten people seems like a huge case of overkill if they are enforcing social distancing rules.
At the same time, we’ve seen both Baltimore’s Mayor and Chief of Police heaping praise on the thousands of protesters who took to the streets shoulder to shoulder, most without facemasks or any other sort of protection. There was no talk of issuing tickets or fines to those individuals. And to resurrect the point that the Pastor made when tearing up the cease and desist order, the conditions at Walmart don’t appear any safer than those inside the church. If anything, the stores have more people in close contact with each other.
Perhaps some of those protesters could turn a portion of their energy toward protesting the closure of their churches. That sounds like a far more direct method of getting the government to comply with your wishes these days. If you can force elected officials to ignore the law and defund their police departments, surely they would drop some piddling fine in a heartbeat if enough people threaten to riot.