Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, put a Stay at Home order in place on March 24. It is currently set to remain in place until June 10. That’s not a typo. June 10 at 11:59 p.m.
Virginia’s state web site has a FAQ regarding the order and one of the questions is, “Can I leave my house?” First of all, can we just pause a moment to reflect on how ridiculous it is that this would even be a frequently asked question anywhere in the United States? But here’s the answer:
Yes. However, Governor Northam is urging Virginians to limit all non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible. If you choose to go to the park, for a walk, or exercise outside, please practice strict social distancing and keep six feet apart from others. All public and private gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.
There are obvious problems with this answer. “If and when possible” it says. Who gets to decide that? The answer assumes that people—at least some people—will choose to go to the park or take a walk. Is that considered essential travel? If so, why is that and not many other things that someone might choose to do? Northam’s order required state parks to close visitor centers and required privately-owned campgrounds to stop accepting reservations of less than 14 nights. So outdoor exercise, and even hiking, is okay, but going to a visitor’s center or going camping is not.
And notice that Northam’s order bans all private and public gatherings of more than 10 people. That includes religious services. The FAQ states that people may drive to their places of worship and participate in services from within their vehicles, but absolutely must remain in their vehicles other than to use the restroom. “There must be no more than 10 individuals leading the religious ceremony or functioning outside of the church in support of the religious ceremony,” the FAQ states.
I have already addressed elsewhere the myriad reasons why such restrictions on religious worship is unconstitutional, and the courts are beginning to rule accordingly. One pastor in Virginia was given a criminal citation for holding a Palm Sunday service with sixteen people present. And while a judge denied the church’s petition for a restraining order, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest supporting the church. The church observed social distancing, the Justice Department said, and the state “cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings.”
Like others, Northam has encouraged citizens to report violations of his order. The FAQ states, “You may wish to report this information to your local law enforcement agency,” in response to the question of what should be done if people are observed violating the order. This is despite the fact that back in March, Northam urged Virginia’s law enforcement officials to make every effort to avoid making arrests and to find alternatives to putting people in jail. Is it just me, or should it be normal protocol to pursue options other than jailing people when such options are viable alternatives?
Northam’s March 25 order states, “This Order does not apply to the full suite of family planning services and procedures nor to treatment for patients with emergency or urgent needs.” That, of course, means abortion is not restricted. This is despite the fact that the state’s FAQ says, “Non-essential medical care like eye exams, teeth cleaning, and elective procedures should be cancelled or rescheduled. Non-urgent medical appointments should be cancelled or held via telehealth.” You caught that, right? Abortion is not considered an elective procedure.
In fact, not only did Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions not limit abortion, he signed a bill on April 10—in the middle of the COVID-19 shut down, eliminating the state’s mandate that a woman receive an ultrasound within 24-hours before getting an abortion and allowing nurse practitioners who are jointly licensed by the Board of Medicine and Board of Nursing to perform first-trimester abortions. In a statement issued upon signing the bill, Northam said, “No more will legislators in Richmond—most of whom are men—be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies.”
First of all, since when do the characteristics of a legislator have anything to do with their ability to pass laws? Does this mean that African-American legislators should not be allowed to support or pass bills that impact Caucasians? Does it mean that legislators under 40 cannot pass laws that apply to senior citizens? Does it mean that heterosexual legislators cannot initiate legislation that will have an effect on homosexuals? The very notion is, of course, absurd.
Secondly, would someone mind telling Ralph Northam that it is just plain silly to tout the idea that elected men in Richmond will no longer be telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies while Mr. Northam is simultaneously telling people what they can and cannot do with their bodies, businesses what they can and cannot do with their stores and their employees, health care providers what they can and cannot do with their patients, schools what they can and cannot do with the patients, churches what they can and cannot do with their parishioners… You get the idea.
See, it’s not that Northam doesn’t want anyone to be able to tell other people what they can and cannot do, it’s just that he wants to be the one doing the telling.
Photo credit: Gov. Northam’s Twitter @GovernorVA