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