Empower Wisconsin | April 7, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Law enforcement shutting down “drive-in” church service. A child threatened with arrest for posting on Instagram that she had COVID-19. A local elected official scorned by public officials for suggesting civil disobedience in the face of Gov. Tony Evers’ social distancing edicts.
Wisconsin is feeling more and more like a police state these days.
While the fear of the coronavirus outbreak is real and the consequences severe, we’re seeing a growing number of egregious violations of the constitution in the name of public safety.
Like the incident at First English Lutheran Church in Oshkosh.
Pastor Timothy Greenwald came up with a novel way to try to keep his flock together during the novel coronavirus outbreak. A couple of Sundays ago, Greenwald adapted services to comply with Evers’ “safer at home” order, holding a drive-in-style service. Parishioners parked in the church parking lot where they collectively tuned their car radios into a weak signal that picked up the broadcast service. Members stayed in their cars, at a safe distance from fellow churchgoers.
Oshkosh community members complained. Greenwald called the police department, and a law enforcement official advised that police have told churches not to hold in-person services. That included Greenwald’s drive-in method of delivering the Good News. Not wanting to face law enforcement action, the pastor told his parishioners to head on home.
Members of faith communities have tried to adapt to the “new normal” of social isolation, but these are among the holiest days of the year for churches and synagogues.
A time of faith
Legislative Republicans have urged Evers to allow in-person services for Easter and Passover.
“It’s more important than ever that we allow Wisconsinites to observe their individual faiths,” the Assembly GOP caucus wrote in a letter Friday to Evers. “To that end, we ask that you work with Wisconsin churches and temples to allow them to hold Easter or Passover, even if outside.”
In short, they asked for Evers to follow the First Amendment, even during a pandemic.
The governor said, no.
“As a state and a nation, we are heading into the worst of this public health crisis,” Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The governor understands that for many Wisconsinites their faith is a source of comfort, especially in these difficult times, but in order to protect the health and safety of Wisconsinites he will not be rolling back the provisions of the Safer at Home order.”
Filtering the First
In times of crisis, the First Amendment is one of the first rights under assault.
Case in point, the Oxford, Wis. Girl, who doctors say more than likely contracted the coronavirus, was threatened with arrest if she didn’t remove her Instagram post about her struggles with the disease, according to the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).
WILL says it sent letters to Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and Westfield School District Administrator Robert Meicher demanding an apology for their alleged violations of Amyiah Cohoon’s First Amendment rights. The Milwaukee-based public interest law firm is representing the girl and her parents, Rick and Angela Cohoon.
And in this public emergency, as in crises past, expressing a view counter to the government’s can make you the subject of public scorn. Just ask Menomonee Falls Trustee Paul Tadda. In responding to Rep. Janel Brandtjen’s (R-Menomonee Falls) post about Evers’ faulty communications on his Safer at Home order, Tadda wrote that the governor “has no right to put me under house arrest or infringe on my right to work to provide for my family.” He called for “civil disobedience,” while noting he will “practice personal responsibility.” He asked his representative to “work to stop these economy killing orders!”
It’s true. Evers’ orders, even in the name of safety, are killing Wisconsin’s economy and making things financially hard on a lot of people.
But Tadda’s views became the subject of a Waukesha Freeman newspaper story, which included Menomonee Falls Village President Dave Glasgow’s pointed criticism of Tadda’s sentiments. Glasgow was “shocked” by the Facebook post, the Freeman reported.
“As a resident, as a community member (I’m) just blown away that an elected official would act in this manner and act in such a belligerent way towards an order from the governor, and especially an elected official who has been entrusted by the constituents to obviously provide leadership and direction,” Glasgow told the publication.
“My family and I are following the governor’s Safer at Home order, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it and my consent is not unlimited,” Tadda told the Freeman. “The current crisis does not give the governor dictatorial powers over free citizens.”
Some believe it does.