MOSCOW — A “psalm sing” attended by more than 150 people Wednesday in the Moscow City Hall parking lot led to three arrests, including Latah County commission candidate Gabriel Rench.
Rench, a Moscow Republican running against incumbent Moscow Democrat Tom Lamar in November’s election, was one of five people cited by Moscow police for suspicion of being in violation of Moscow’s mask/social distancing order, according to Moscow Police Chief James Fry.
Of the five cited, two also were arrested for suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer. The fifth, Rench, was arrested but not charged with allegedly refusing to identify himself to police, Fry said.
The officer who arrested Rench knew who he was, Fry said, but Rench refused to provide his identification after the officer requested it.
None of the five cited were wearing masks or social distancing, Fry said.
The five mask order citations were the first given by Moscow police. The mask order took effect in early July and states that face coverings must be worn in indoor and outdoor public settings where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained with nonhousehold members.
Those who violate the order are subject to a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Fry said officers preach community policing, “but at some point in time you have to enforce.”
The department has been “very lenient” on enforcing the order, he said, and officers have tried to work with every group to prevent incidents like Wednesday’s from happening.
The event was promoted on Christ Church’s Facebook page as a “flash psalm sing.” It started at 4:45 p.m., and most people had left within 30 minutes of it starting.
The Rev. Ben Zornes, a Christ Church pastor and organizer of the event, said the church hosts psalm, or hymn, events about once a month at places like Friendship Square, East City Park or a house. Zornes said Wednesday’s psalm sing was also a fitting way to show that residents want a return to normalcy in the face of COVID-19.
“We wanted to make a statement we’re ready to head back to normal,” he said, claiming it is time to start pushing back against “largely groundless” laws — referencing the mask order — that are being passed and enforced without giving heed to what residents want.
The Moscow City Council extended the mask order to Jan. 5 at Monday’s council meeting.
About 40 people stood outside before and during the council meeting with signs protesting the order. Several people voiced their opposition when public comment was allowed, and many weighted in with support and opposition in emails to the mayor and council.
City officials learned about the event in advance, Fry said, prompting crews to paint colorful circles in the city hall parking lot where attendees could stand to maintain proper social distancing.
The vast majority of people there — most of whom Zornes said were Christ Church members — didn’t wear masks, and most didn’tt social distance. The group sang a few hymns and concluded with a doxology.
The Rev. Doug Wilson warned attendees at the beginning of the event that they could be cited by police for not wearing masks or social distancing.
Zornes said police officers acted calmly and made it clear they were going to enforce the face mask order with arrests. He said he doesn’t think arrests should have been made, because of the attendees’ First Amendment rights.
“We were just singing songs,” he said, noting many residents are working on a referendum to overturn the mask order.
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