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Virginia's Governor shuts down church services, lets liquor stores stay open

Terence P. Jeffrey on

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order on Monday that is aimed at stopping the new coronavirus -- and, in the process, makes it a criminal offense to hold a church service attended by more than 10 people.

Yes, his order makes it a crime for more than 10 people to gather in a church.

There are two passages in the text of the governor's order that are relevant to this.

Paragraph 1 says: "Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article V, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia, by (sections) 44-146.17 of the Code of Virginia and in furtherance of Executive Order 51, I order the following: 1. Effective 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, 2020 until 11:59 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020, all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited."

The second relevant section of the order says: "Violation of paragraphs 1, 3, 4, and 6 of this Order shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor pursuant to (sections) 44-146.17 of the Code of Virginia."

Indeed, the actual text of sections 44-146.17 says: "Executive orders, to include those declaring a state of emergency and directing evacuation, shall have the force and effect of law and the violation thereof shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor in every case where the executive order declares that its violation shall have such force and effect."

 

Northam, in his executive order, declared, "Violations of paragraph 1" -- which states that "all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited" -- are Class 1 misdemeanors. Thus, under Virginia law, they are Class 1 misdemeanors.

What can the government do to you for committing one of these Class 1 misdemeanors?

The Code of Virginia spells out the punishment in section 18.2-11. It says: "The authorized punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are: (a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both."

Now, attending a typical church service -- like, say, a Catholic Mass on Sunday -- would seem to fall within the scope of "public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals."

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