April 22, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr had some stern words for governors across the country Tuesday, stating that the actions of some have crossed the line from defensible public-health measures into violations of the Constitution.
COVID-19 lockdown orders have forced the suspension of many public gatherings and activities across the country for fear of spreading the virus. Many such actions have been controversial, from ticketing pro-lifers for standing outside abortion centers (even while maintaining recommended “social distance” from one another) to prohibiting even drive-in church services.
Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Barr explained that “whatever powers the government has, whether it be the president or the state governor, still is bounded by Constitutional rights of the individual. Our federal Constitutional rights don’t go away in an emergency.”
While the law allows for certain “burdens” to be placed on the exercise of constitutional rights during a legitimate emergency, he continued, those measures must be “targeted,” “strictly necessary,” and “use less intrusive means if they are equally effective in dealing with the problem.”
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Barr went on to note that there are “potentials for collision” between federal and state power in the current situation. “When a governor acts, especially when a governor does something that intrudes upon or infringes on a fundamental right or a Constitutional right, they’re bounded by that,” he said. “And those situations are emerging around the country, to some extent.”
Hewitt referenced the Justice Department’s issuing of a court filing siding with drive-in worshippers in Mississippi. Barr explained that “we did more than put them on notice,” and as a result the “government has pulled back from those restrictions at least to some degree,” but progress remains to be made.
“I think we have to make a distinction between orders that tell people or principles that say you know, you have to keep your distance of six feet, you should be washing, you should be wearing (personal protective equipment) when you’re out and about,” he said, and “blunter instruments that say everyone has to shelter in place, to stay at home regardless of the situation on the ground, or you know, you shut down a business regardless of the capacity of the business to operate safely for its customers and its employees.”
In a previous statement, Barr reminded state officials that “government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar non-religious activity,” and that “religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans. This is true more so than ever during this difficult time.” He vowed that the Justice Department “will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”