Over the last several days, sheriffs in at least three Alabama counties have expressed their intention to defy the State of Alabama’s “Safer at Home” coronavirus edict, which, if interpreted literally, would restrict church gatherings.
The order announced by Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) last week has put Alabama law enforcement in some jurisdictions in a difficult position as they are the enforcement mechanism of the order that seemingly contradicts rights guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) issued a statement to Birmingham, AL FOX affiliate WBRC, warning law enforcement against the enforcement of a state health order, if it means imposing restrictions on church gatherings. He also said that he anticipated a change to those restrictions, which was in the works.
“Sheriffs and police chiefs throughout Alabama have endeavored to work alongside their citizens to protect public health without being heavy-handed and that should continue until the order is lifted,” Marshall said in the statement. “Health risks vary widely in every situation and local officials are best suited to make decisions about enforcement from the front lines. The Attorney General agrees that enforcement of the order against churches would be ill-advised. He has been assured that the State Health Order will soon be amended to better accommodate the free exercise of religion.”
Despite the initial ban against church gatherings of 10 or more, some state lawmakers have questioned the double standard applied by Ivey’s administration as other big-box retailers remain open.
“How long must we wait to open Alabama up?” Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes (R) said in a Facebook video. “How long must people suffer? Churches, businesses, and employees are all hanging on by a thread.”
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