It seems Moscow, Idaho, is going the way of its Soviet namesake, arresting a group of unmasked Christians who had peaceably assembled outside the city hall to sing psalms and protest an extension of the city’s masking order.
On Wednesday, Moscow’s Christ Church, whose pastor is famed Christian theologian Douglas Wilson, announced that a “Psalm Sing” would be held outside city hall that afternoon.
CrossPolitic Studios also announced the Psalm Sing on their Facebook page:
PSALM SING IN MOSCOW: A number of people are gathering at city hall this afternoon at 4:45 for what we are calling a “flash psalm sing.” We will sing three songs and the doxology, and then out. We are asking folks to please not wear a mask. We hope to do the same thing next Wednesday as well. This event was organized by Christ Church, but everyone is welcome.
On Tuesday, the city council extended the mandatory masking order, set to expire on October 6, until January, despite the fact there have been no deaths, or even hospitalizations, due to the COVID-19 virus in Latah County.
Wilson wrote at Blog and Mablog after the event, “This was not an assembly of scofflaws. It really was a peaceful protest, a petition to our city government for a redress of grievances, and a religious assembly, all in one. Everything about it was proper. We sang three songs and the doxology, and then went home.”
He pointed out that on the day the city council voted to extend the mask order, the mayor of Moscow presided over an outdoor wedding, where he did not wear a mask. Nor did a city council member who was allegedly in attendance.
According to local reports, more than 150 people were in attendance at the gathering to sing psalms and hymns–in beautiful four-part harmony, I might add–though Wilson believes the number was closer to 300, .
Fifteen minutes into the gathering–during the very first song–police began to arrest the peaceful psalm singers for failing to wear masks as mandated by the Moscow City Council.
Latah County commission candidate and host of the CrossPolitic show Gabriel Rench was led away in handcuffs as the group sang, “Some always trust in chariots, others trust in horses, but we recall our Lord and God,” lifting their voices to proclaim Psalm 20.
The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported that in addition to Rench, four others were cited for being in violation of the masking/social distancing order. Two were arrested and charged with resisting or obstructing an officer. Rench was arrested, but not charged, with refusing to identify himself to police.
“So our church today went to city hall–I wouldn’t say just our church–a bunch of people in our community went to city hall and went to sing psalms in the parking lot at city hall,” Rench said on an emergency episode of the CrossPolitic show. “So we’re singing psalms, we had just kicked off the first psalm, I’m standing there with my mom right next to me and we’re kind of the closest to the police. And Pastor (Douglas) Wilson warned us, ‘If you guys don’t social distance you’re probably going to get a ticket.'”
“And so everyone kind of got a little closer, the crowd kind of scooted closer to one another, and so we started singing psalms and the cops just walked up to me and my mom first, because we’re kind of the closest to them,” he explained. “They weren’t singling anybody out. And they asked if we were together and my mom grabbed my arm and said, ‘We’re family.’ And then I grabbed my buddy Tyler and said to the cops, ‘we’re not.’ After that, the cop came to talk to me and he said, ‘Give me your license I’m probably going to write you a ticket.'”
Rench told the officer that he didn’t need to do this and the two went back and forth for several minutes, which led to his eventual arrest. He was booked and held for two hours at the jail, where, he noted, two deputies were not wearing masks.
According to Rench, police had learned of the planned rally and prepared for the peaceful psalm-singers by painting social-distancing circles on the parking lot “so they could say, ‘Look, you aren’t social distancing, I have the evidence to write you a fine.'”
Wilson wrote on his blog, “We have every right to protest the high hypocrisy involved in all of this. Not only so, but I believe we have a responsibility to do so.” He quipped that the protest was not conducted “Portland style.”
“The federal building is just a block away from city hall, and I can say that I was very proud of our people — not one of them tried to burn it down,” said Wilson. “Rather, we addressed this hypocritical and nonsensical law in a peaceful, orderly, law-abiding, and responsible way.”
David Shannon, aka Chocolate Knox, said on the CrossPolitic show that Moscow police stood by and did nothing when Black Lives Matter held a Defund the Police rally in July–in front of the police station–violating both masking and social distancing orders. “No one was arrested,” he said. “No one. Zero people.”
Shannon, who is black, said he and his wife are strong supporters of the police and that the police chief had even stopped by their house to thank them for their support. “Guys, shame on you,” he said. Shannon compared the arrests of the peaceful protesters to the civil rights movement and said that now, instead of being told to go to the back of the bus, Christians are being forced to stand in circles and being told they must limit the size of their church services. “This is ridiculous. We, just sixty years [ago], went through this and we’re back facing it again?”
“You can sing your songs to God if you stand on the dot,” another host quipped.
Steve Yates, former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and past Idaho Republican Party chairman, weighed in, writing on Twitter Wednesday night, “You can agree or disagree with this kind of assembly, but it is 100% protected under the Constitution and this targeting of a public figure for arrest is a disgrace, especially in Idaho.”
Wilson said that if the masking mandate continues, there will be more protests. “If a hypocritical city government really wants to double down on issuing misdemeanor citations to its most responsible citizens for singing psalms, I am pretty sure we can arrange for hundreds of not guilty pleas, along with hundreds of requests for a jury trial.”
Shannon warned that churches must not allow these government overreaches to continue. “Look, if you are not doing this, you’re going to have to face a moment where you have to. You might as well start doing it now,” he suggested. “Everybody should go to their city hall with the psalter. Start singing ‘Amazing Grace’ there.”
Amen and amen.
You can watch the CrossPolitic show on the arrests here:
This article has been updated to include comments from Douglas Wilson.