Some local residents are organizing gatherings in protest of Idaho’s stay-home order, putting to the test law enforcement’s approach to enforce it.
Emmett resident Ammon Bundy, known for his family’s disputes with the federal government over land management, is organizing a gathering in the Boise area to celebrate Easter this Sunday, according to a Facebook post from Saturday. Bundy wrote he is looking for a venue that could host 500 to 1,000 people “so those wanting to worship and honor God on this eventful day, can do so.”
In a nearly 50-minute Facebook video, an emotional Bundy said Christians are required to defend their liberties. He said the “quest” of governments around the world, many of which have issued stay-home orders amid the virus outbreak, is to “destroy the agency of man,” including the right to worship.
“The quest is to make us miserable, like them, and to give them power to control … the people of this world,” Bundy said.
The lengthy video was in response to thousands of “hate messages and death wishes” Bundy said he received in the days following his announcement that he planned to organize an Easter service.
The stay-home order, announced March 25 and in effect through at least April 15, requires all Idahoans to self-isolate at home whenever possible, unless they work at an essential business or need to buy necessities such as groceries. Outdoor activity is still allowed as long as people stay six feet apart. The order prohibits “all non-essential gatherings of any number of individuals.”
Bundy in recent weeks has held gatherings to protest the state’s stay-home order. On March 26, he hosted a “peoples’ meeting” at a warehouse in Emmett, where he pledged to defend Idahoans who are pressured to obey the order and called on others to “defend their rights.” Bundy held a similar meeting the following week.
Bundy did not return a call or an email from the Idaho Press on Tuesday.
Boise Police Department spokeswoman Haley Williams confirmed the department is aware of the proposed event “and is following up.”
“We don’t have any additional or specifics information at this point,” she wrote in an email to the Idaho Press.
Bundy isn’t the only person to organize an event in protest of the order.
The organization Health Freedom Idaho, a group whose members have spoken out against required vaccines in the past, planned a demonstration Tuesday evening in front of Gov. Brad Little’s ranch in Emmett, Sarah Clendenon, the group’s co-executive director, confirmed to the Idaho Press. As of Tuesday evening, 12 people had committed to going through Facebook, and another 73 had indicated they were interested.
The group had sent a letter to Little earlier in the week, urging him to rescind the stay-home order.
“Government is not responsible for public health,” Clendenon wrote in an email to the Idaho Press. “Each person is responsible for their own and their family’s health. The only proper and acceptable role of government is to protect and uphold our inherent, unalienable, God-given rights. These rights … include the right of free speech, free press, peaceful assembly, the right to bear arms, the right to due process, and the rights to life, liberty, and property. This ‘stay-at-home’ order violates several of these rights, which is why we are demonstrating today.”
Failure to comply with the order “could constitute a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both,” according to the order, citing Idaho Code 56-1003(7)(c), which lays out the powers and duties of the Department of Health and Welfare director.
Little’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how the order will be enforced. According to a frequently asked questions page on the state’s coronavirus website, state and local law enforcement will enforce, but they are taking an educational approach with citizens.
Another answer says individuals who want to report a violation of the order should report it to local authorities, which may include city police, the county sheriff or Idaho State Police, depending on the circumstances.
“The Governor, the Department of Health & Welfare, and the Attorney General’s Office do not have enforcement authority under the statutes authorizing the order or under the order itself,” the website says.
A call to the office of the chief of the Emmett Police Department was not returned Tuesday.
“Boise police have been focused on gaining voluntary compliance to the Governors stay-home order,” Williams wrote in an email to the Idaho Press. “As a last resort if we are unable to do that then we would refer the report to the prosecutor’s office for possible misdemeanor charges authorized by the Governors order.”
The stay-home order is in effect until 11:59 p.m. April 15, unless Little extends it.
“I will predict with pretty good confidence that something is going to continue on,” Little said Tuesday during a statewide Q&A call with AARP Idaho. With the good Lord’s help, I’m trying to make the best decision going forward. But we will not return to normal on April 16.”
Compliance with the order and slowing the spread of the virus is “the right thing to do for the prosperity of Idaho going forward,” Little said.
Two North Idaho public officials in Bonner County — state Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard and Sheriff Daryl Wheeler — have spoken out against the stay-home order and questioned Little’s authority to issue it. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, however, confirms the order is constitutional, the Idaho Statesman reports.
“The law in this area is clearly defined,” he told the Statesman. “I have no problems with providing a legal defense of the governor’s order and stand ready to do so should the need arise.”