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First Amendment Triumphs: Judge Rules Arrest of Outdoor Worshippers Unconstitutional

Twenty-eight months after the initial arrests, Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. upholds constitutional rights in the landmark ruling of the 2020 Unlawful Arrests of Outdoor Worshipers in Idaho. This ruling sets a precedent that City orders cannot suspend constitutional rights.

In September 2020, a group organized by Christ Church of Moscow, Idaho gathered outside city hall to protest gathering restrictions by singing hymns. The city had voted to approve orders for mask-wearing and social distancing with violations subject to a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The city knew of the hymn-singing event. City crews painted colorful circles in the city hall parking lot that event attendees could stand on to maintain proper social distancing Wednesday and to make it easier for officers to see who was violating the city orders.

The unmasked gathering sang a few hymns and concluded with a doxology. During the event, Gabriel Rench, Sean Bohnet, and Rachel Bohnet were arrested for not wearing masks and not being socially distanced from other attendees.

The church gathering in a public space embodied the first amendment, including freedom of speech, religion, gathering, and petitioning the government for grievances.  Ironically the arresting officer took the hymnal out of Rench’s hand before arresting him.

The arrest was deemed a clear violation of the protesters’ constitutional rights three years later when Judge Morrison C England, Jr ruled in their favor. The Christ Church’s 2020 psalm-sing protest of city covid restrictions was a lawful and constitutionally protected gathering. The City of Moscow acted unlawfully in arresting the charging protesters. Gabriel Rench and others were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The following is adapted from Dr. Daniel Bobinski’s interview with Gabriel Rench. Minor edits were made for clarity. The full interview can be seen here.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski

Joining me now is Gabriel wrench from the wonderful city of Moscow, Idaho where Gabriel, you were arrested back in 2020. For what?

Gabriel Rench 

Not wearing a mask, and not standing six feet apart from my friend Tyler while singing church hymns outdoors.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

You are such a criminal.

Gabriel Rench  

I wasn’t holding a Molotov cocktail but a hymnal.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

You know, it’s interesting; I heard recently that the federal government is spending money to train left-wing organizations on how far they can push it when they protest, they can push it up to so far. And if they cross a certain line, then they get arrested. So then they’re teaching the left-wing organizations where they can and can’t go kind of?

Gabriel Rench 

Well, I think I think one of the things you’ve seen in this whole COVID pandemic is that the leftist captured the universities, they captured our public school system, they captured a lot of the political officers, not all of them, they’ve captured a lot. And now they’ve captured business, big tech. And so I mean, we’re not in a situation where we shouldn’t even be negotiating with leftists. My city is run by leftists.

I was just talking about this with my friend. But I don’t know how any other way to look at this. But we’re in some sort of death match between leftists and conservatives. And there’s a bunch of people in the middle that are just wanting to live in America, work in their jobs, raise their families.  There’s a no holds barred death match that we’re in. And conservatives need to wake up and know that this isn’t a negotiation this is a fight.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

Yeah, I think that’s spot on. It’s not a negotiation. And that, unfortunately, that’s been the methodology that we’ve been accustomed to throughout the decades of our lives. As we go, we negotiate, and we give a little we take a little, and all the compromise that goes on in politics, but I think you’ve nailed it.

They have people here who are going, “No, I’m not going to negotiate with all of you who are constitutional loving people, we don’t want you. You’re an extremist. You need to be cast out. It’s a matter of fact, if people go back and read Vladimir, Lenin’s paper on how they took over Russia in 1917, that’s exactly what they did. They said that the time for talking was over. No more discussion from those that we don’t agree with.

Gabriel Rench  

Yeah, even Hitler, when he came into power, took over and during a new constitution and used the health emergency orders in Germany to gain more power. And so this is a play that’s already been run.

Yeah. And the is problem with our country is a lot of these health emergency orders that were written there were written in the ’50s, ’60s.. So all these emergency orders that the government used throughout the pandemic here in the state of Idaho, and throughout the US, were all written under the guise of nuclear threat, nuclear war, and real emergencies, real health emergencies, real battles, real wars, not the flu.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski   

Right, right. Well, that’s kind of where I want to go with this because I saw in the paper that a US judge has come out and said that you should not have been arrested. I’m reading here an article from the Christian Post. It says Moscow City was wrong to arrest him, a singer is at the outdoor worship gathering. And I just want to read the statement from the judges as Judge Morrison C England Jr. He says “the plaintiffs should never have been arrested in the first place. And the constitutionality of what the city thought its code said is irrelevant. plaintiffs were wrongfully arrested. The city indisputably erred in interpreting its own code. The city consequently Miss advised its officers as to the codes application. And plaintiffs are so far reasonable in their damages requests.” Congratulations, sir.

Gabriel Rench  

Thank you. And that was why I was arrested on September 23, 2020, as you alluded to already, and the emergency orders that our mayor and our city council put into play started on July 2, 2020. And so every month they would go and vote him in and renew those emergency orders for another 30 days. And that health emergency order was basically Eat while you’re out in public, you either had to wear a mask or stand six feet apart, out in the street, out of the park, out in public, that was the health emergency order.

And, and then, you know, drill July 30, if they would, they would meet again they’d vote they’d extended for another 30 days in August, they meet again, votes 10 days. And then of course, September where they met on September 21, on Monday, September 21, and they voted to extend it through January. So they finally did like this three-month, you know, extension on it.

And so my church had protested a couple of times, Black Lives Matter protested in July after they enacted the order in July. And of course, no arrests were, are taken there. They were downtown protesting. So my church started protesting sing songs, that was how we protest, we go and sing psalms and spiritual hymns and have a good time for 20 minutes, and we leave.

And so when they extended the order on September 21, on Monday, my elders my password is like, hey, let’s, let’s go this time sing songs at City Hall. And so we usually were downtown, we decided to go to City Hall. We went to City Hall, we’d go after, after work.

So we’d all meet like five o’clock, there’s probably 200 Husbands, wives, kids, children, community members out there, and not just from my church, mostly from my church, not all. And when we walked up, if you remember, when we walked up into that parking lot, the mayor had paid city staff to spray paint circles six feet apart.

In the parking lot, as I walked up, I remember five o’clock after work. I remember walking up and seeing all these polka dots is what it looked like, everywhere. And you’re like, what is that, and then I looked up, I saw the cops there. They’d never been to one of our protests. Or they’d never been into one of our protests like that. And then I looked at all these polka dots on the floor, I was like, Oh, they want to objectively see that we aren’t standing six feet apart. That’s what those circles were there for.

And so we gather, we start singing. And as soon as we start singing, my arresting officer walked up to my mom first. Yep, like a total coward, he walked up to my mom first and that kind of that bothered me. I was like, “Oh, you’re gonna talk to my mom. First you gonna talk to a woman? And you’re gonna to appraoch them.” I was standing right next to mom. But he walked up to mom first. And he asked my mom, “are you with this man?” And she said, “he’s my son”.

And you know how the arbitrary COVID protocols work, that apparently family members aren’t a threat to COVID to one another. They can stand six feet close without wearing masks. That’s fine.

I put my arm around my buddy, Tyler. And I said this is my friend Tyler. So I immediately wasn’t going to play that game.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski   

You nailed it. Arbitrary. Totally arbitrary.

Gabriel Rench  

Standing next to Tyler was a COVID threat. But standing next to my mom, not a COVID threat, whatever. And the arresting officer asked for my driver’s license. And I just responded to that officer, I am exercising my constitutional rights, you swore an oath to defend my constitutional rights against domestic enemies. And I’m not giving you my driver’s license.

So we went back and forth with that kind of conversation about four times. And he said, I’m asking you one more time, give me your license. And I said, officer, you’re wrong, and you’re breaking your oath. And he proceeded to the craziest thing you go back and watch the video in 2020 The craziest thing about all this is he had to take my hymnbook out of my hand to arrest me to cut me.

And I just don’t know what any officer is thinking to do to a citizen. What kind of what kind of mindset do you have to have as a cop and with your chief of police standing right behind you to take a citizen’s hymnbook from his hands to handcuff them because he’s singing songs in public out in the street out in the parking lot? Excuse me?!

So, you know, and one of the things that we’re doing at that moment is we’re exercising our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to petition, freedom to gather – embodied the whole first amendment. 

And they arrested me and took me off. I went to jail that night. I got out that our sheriff Sheriff Richie Skiles is a fantastic sheriff. He told them, get that guy to my jail. I didn’t have to pay a bond or anything. He just got me out as fast as he could as a sheriff. And so that was fantastic.

As opposed to the chief of police, who was watching the arrest of the whole time. And, but what was crazy about all this, was that the former mayor Bill Lambert, he’s no longer Mayor anymore. He retired. He’s like Gavin Newsom just a month prior, in September, was officiating a wedding out in public outside. People all around city council members were there. They were not wearing face masks, not standing six feet apart, just three, three weeks before.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski   

So three weeks before you are arrested for not wearing a mask in public. Like he was officiating a wedding with city council members, also not wearing a mask in public.

Gabriel Rench   

Right, They don’t believe masking works. They don’t believe social distancing works. They weren’t doing it. They don’t care.

They just got all the fear that got drummed up came into their little tyrannical mind and they grabbed up power.

They made tons. Our city council members made tons of money from the pandemic. You can look it up. You can look up their LLCs you can look up their names, you can look up their businesses, and how much money they brought in from the pandemic.

Gabriel Rench  

You would think there are similarities there. And so they all made out. It even this. The major shutdown goes back six months March 2020. Mayor Bill Lambert at the time and City Council voted to shut down all the businesses downtown. We didn’t have one Coronavirus case in the community. Not one and they shut down all downtown. There sat down didn’t work Coronavirus still came ]the shut down at work Coronavirus still comes.

Within that week or two, he drove out to just outside the city limits to Elks Lodge golf course. And was drinking beer and playing golf with his buddy not standing six feet apart. You know, giving his money over to a business that wasn’t shut down.

He couldn’t shut it down. He didn’t have the authority to shut down because outside is literally three or four miles outside of the city limits. That was it in Letah County, and he’s out there drinking beer, playing golf with his buddies, while my friends can’t operate their business in downtown while my friends can’t provide for their families.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

But this is kind of a thing I want to talk about. And that is, does a mayor have the right to mandate? Do people wear masks? This is it’s not a law, enforcing the law and enforcing the rule.

Can one be arrested for not following a rule we have down here in Treasure Valley? Sara Brady was arrested outside that playground right on the playground. She was standing in a perfectly legal Place to Stand. She wasn’t done in the place that was, quote-unquote, off limits. And she broke no laws, and yet she was arrested.

Thankfully, the current attorney general Raul Labrador has dismissed the case. But here the former Attorney General was playing the play on the game along with the current governor about, you know, the power of trips like you’re talking about you got the mayor playing the power of ships, you got the governor playing power trips. That question I think, needs to be addressed nationwide.

Do mayors and governors have the right to enact these rules and have people arrested for rules that are not enacted by a legislature?

Gabriel Rench  

There are, I think, a couple of issues there. One is we’ve created a culture where bureaucracies can make rules at this state level, and we think that we think they apply. So we kind of we have this. Yeah, we have this Civic ignorance of our population. And that’s coming largely from the public schools. They’re training us in this ignorance.

And related to that, you know, Governor Little actually did not have the authority to shut down the state as he did. The only authority he had under this broad umbrella of public health emergency orders you could read; you could read the law itself. It says the governor can only quarantine and isolate the vulnerable and sick. Instead, he quarantines the whole state.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

Well, I looked at those definitions. Yeah. Because Quarantine is somebody who’s already sick or has been exposed to somebody who is sick. What he did was he placed the entire Senator under house arrest.

Gabriel Rench  

That’s right. That’s right. So,  he didn’t have any of authority to do what he did. And then, you know, our mayor and city council had the hubris to think they could suspend the Constitution. That’s really what they thought they could do, which is unbelievable hubris and economic and civic ignorance. I won my criminal complaint against me in January 2021. And then I turned around and sued my city and all the actors involved for violating my first and fourth amendment rights, and we just had a great victory last week.

So the judge ruled in our favor that you read at the very beginning of the show. And one of the things that are why this is such a big victory not just for us locally but nationwide is because it reminds everybody that our First Amendment rights can’t be taken away by a fearful mayor and city council.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski   

It’s a joke. Ignorance,

Gabriel Rench  

Out of fear, out of ignorance, out of tyrannical little desires in their hearts, I don’t know. But this is so egregious because I was a political opponent in 2020, I was running for county commissioner, and none of them voted for me. They’re all against me. They’re all fighting me. None of them voted for me. They targeted a political candidate in 2020. And in addition to that, they targeted, and discriminative discriminated against my religious beliefs, or something, right? And I’ve been in the history of my church, my community in the city, we’ve been discriminated against significantly for our religious beliefs over the years.

And it’s no surprise that it finally ended up in arrest. And then this is one of the things that more this needs to get out more this story needs to get out more on this side of things. I had my buddy, he in protest of my arrest back in October 2020. He printed stickers that said, Welcome to Moscow and forced because we care. And that was with a hammer and sickle in the middle of the sticker. And the enforce because we care was the city tagline for their marketing efforts to get everyone to wear masks and force because we care.

His sons woke up at three in the morning is an 18-year-old and a juvenile 14-year-old. And they went and tagged those stickers on business-friendly, friendly businesses that they knew and knew the owners. But they also, God forbid, tagged a couple of city light poles. And the cops came three in the morning, handcuffed. One of the kids detained one of the kids and then interviewed the juvenile with no dad present and no lawyer present. Five cops, three in the morning, and they’re protesting; the reason why they’re doing this is that they’re protesting my arrest. Welcome masculine force because of care.

And then the cops called Dad Dad came down at three in the morning and got the boys, and the boys, on the way home told him everything the cops did, they separated us they interviewed the 14-year-old juvenile without a dad or lawyer present. All that stuff came out. And then like three or four days later, because the city of Moscow city attorney knew they would lose my case. They knew this was an October; they knew they were gonna lose my criminal case. And they knew it was going to follow up with a lawsuit. They went after these guys, these two sons, because they were protesting my resume. And they’re trying to find a way to punish us.

And so three days later, four days later, a cop came up to my buddy’s door and cited him with 13 misdemeanors. So the city had couple of days to process this. The city attorney made the decision. Oh yeah, we’re going to go after that. These boys with the sticker.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

This is plain and simple—the weaponization of government.

Gabriel Rench   

That’s exactly right. And so now my buddy, Nate. He’s in a three-year legal battle with the city. It took me three years just last week to clear my name. For exercising my First Amendment rights, the city would not relent for three years, I had to have Thomas More society come in and financially support me because I didn’t have that money.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski 

This is horrific that people are unaware that this is happening in good old Idaho, where everybody loves each other and gets along right. Now the weaponization of our government is happening. And people need to be made aware of this, and they need to stand up for their rights. There’s like you’re doing

Gabriel Rench   

Governor little, all these all this battle have to happen under the conditions of his shutdown. Like he created, by the way, you know, yeah. And he created the conditions for all the cities to do what they did. He created those conditions. And we think, you know, Governor little has been a bad actor and all these hands down. And he created those conditions. And we made my buddies a member, Governor Little in his original order. He shut down churches in his initial order to shut down; some of my friends up in northern Idaho sued the governor, and he removed the church restriction. So we already had to fight the governor about this with churches. And so no other cities thought they could shut down our constitutional rights because the governor thought he could.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

Well, here’s a great question. Someone asked me one time, how do you control 50 states? And the simple answer is you control 50 people with governors. That’s right. And the National Governors Association, most folks don’t know this. But the National Governors Association, and maybe I don’t know, maybe you know it, and maybe you don’t, has an agreement, written agreements plural with the World Economic Forum. Yeah.

So when Klaus Schwab up and those guys trying to institute the great reset to reset our whole form of government. They have written agreements with the National Governors Association, right? If you look at how all the different states fell into line and did almost the same thing, they were following the guidelines put forth by the National Governors Association.

Yeah. So I look at Brad and you know what? The dude, in my opinion, is basically American. That’s an empty suit. There are many people that I’ve talked to who have been involved with Idaho politics for a long time that echo the same thing. They say, Yep, he totally is. And so here he is just repeating whatever the National Governors Association says to do, and you’re right, he had no authority to do it.

Gabriel Rench   

Yeah. And he’s, I mean, I look at Brad Little. He’s a corporatist. He does the bidding of big business in Idaho. And he’s always made his calculations on that. So yeah, you know, Lord willing, I hope one of the things that happen and one thing I’m very grateful for about 2020, is that we’re seeing a political awakening. There are a lot of conservatives that are starting to wake up.

Even about Idaho. We’re like, oh, man, Idaho is not as conservative as we thought it was. Idaho shut down. Idaho acted like Washington, Oregon, and California in a lot of ways. I mean, was anybody arrested in Washington for breaking fandom? I don’t think so.

I think people were finding stuff. But Idaho arrested people resting, people going to the parks, arresting people for singing songs. I mean, it was insane. What happened? And so I really hope, I mean, I, of course, as a Christian, I want to see reformation and revival, I want to see our hearts changed. Because whatever political revival we might get will be short-lived. If it’s not a heart change revival, first, our heart change revival, it changes.

Your thinking changes the way you pursue your family, your marriage, your relationships, it changes your ethics about how you’re trying to engage your state from the bottom up, as opposed to political revivals in that’s kind of easily, carried by some sort of, you know, emotional angst, you’re frustrated at this governor for four years, and then it goes away.

I want a long-term revival that’s got to come from the heart and Idaho. So I do think we have an opportunity over the next 40 years to turn Idaho and I think one of the brightest, religious, liberty-loving conservative states in America, and I think it’s going to take a minute, but I think we do have an opportunity to change Idaho for good and be a beacon of light over the next 100 years.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski   

Amen. I couldn’t agree more.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

It permeated the culture. And that’s what we need. And so I’m very glad you took some time to join me here on the show. And I’m very glad that the judge found in your favorite judgments of wisdom that totally bought out. Like you have a lot of questions about a lot of judges. So this is really kind of good news.

Gabriel Rench  

Yeah, he’s, he’s an old Bush appointee. So he’s a legacy judge here, federal judge, district judge here in Idaho. And I mean, he, he’s read right through it. He said the city was incompetent the city. You know, what was crazy was even in the health emergency order. It referenced that my first amendment rights were protected, even in the health emergency or Senate. And yet, the city council read it, wrote it, read it, voted on it, July 2, read it, read it, voted on it in July, at the end of July, read it, and voted on the end of August, read it and voted on it and September 21.

And yet they still arrested me for exercising my First Amendment rights. That’s why the judge says this is a high level that is massive incompetence at the seed level, is because they even the health emergency order, it reminded everybody that your first amendment rights are protected.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski  

Well, hopefully, hearing this, people will go, hey, I can stand up against tyranny. That’s right. Because that’s what we have to do, that’s right, we have to do it, or we will succumb and become like California.

Gabriel Rench  

Yeah. And that’s why I think I think we have, I think Idaho’s got some serious cancer in it. And I think we have an opportunity to do some surgery over the next 40 years and change the course of Idaho. And if we, if we don’t do major surgery, if we don’t see as as citizens of Idaho, who care about our freedoms, who care about our way of life in Idaho, who who have different values than California, if we don’t fix the wobbling wills that we’re riding on, I think we’re going to we’re gonna lose Idaho, I really do.

And but I do think there’s a, there’s, there’s some hope here, I think over the next 40 years, I’m going to be working hard in Idaho, I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying in Idaho, I’m raising my kids here, I want my kids to be able to buy a house here without these high costs of property taxes and housing values. And so I want, I want to see the next generations be able to come in and flourish in Idaho. And I want the contrast between a culture of life in Idaho and a culture of death in Washington and become palatable over the next 40 years. I want to see that happen.

And the only way we’re going to see that happen is if we fight to keep it all you have to do to lose Idaho is stop fighting. All you have to do to become liberal is just coast. It our freedoms are always, we’re always going to need to fight to keep our freedoms; you always have to exercise your sort of civic muscles to keep your freedoms. If you stop it, then you’re just going to coast your way into liberalism.

Dr. Daniel Bobinski   

We will have to have you back on to talk about this because I’m convinced that the war if you want to call it that in Idaho, is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between the Republicans who are establishment Republicans who are really leftists wearing the Republican label because that’s how they get elected.

They know they can’t get elected to be after their name. And then the true conservatives who want to follow the Constitution, that’s what the real separation is, and most folks. Then when these guys on the establishment side, start telling us that they’re the real conservatives, they’re out not lying to the people, we need to be able to educate them as to the real differences.

That’s right. So glad to have you back on to talk about that. Gabriel Rench. Thank you so much for joining me.

Gabriel Rench  

Thank you for having me.