Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order, effective Wednesday, that criminalizes having church services for more than 10 people, with the crime being punishable by a $2,500 fine, a year in jail, or both.
Up to this point, Northam was most infamously known for his blackface scandal and for saying if a child was born after a failed attempt at abortion, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
But this order is no mere plea or request from the government, which we have seen before in many states and have written about here, but rather two paragraphs in this order give teeth to the absolute necessity of enforcing this decree. The first:
Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article V, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia, by § 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.
and the second:
Violation of paragraphs 1, 3, 4, and 6 of this Order shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor pursuant to § 44-146.17 of the Code of Virginia.
When we look up what Virginia law he is citing:
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. (source)
So we know it’s a class 1 misdemeanour- a crime- but what is the punishment according to Virginia law?
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. (source)
Now, some may say that we’re jumping to conclusions, as even though the order lists what is considered essential or non-essential, it does not specifically list churches, assuming that likely they are except and would be the exception. Yet in a FAQ released by Governor Northam’s office, it specifically states that they are not exempt.
We reached out to Governor Northam’s press secretary Alena Yarmosky and inquired whether or not the government has any plans to actually enforce this directive. Specifically, we asked if law enforcement would be breaking up services where dozens of people are gathered, and also if the fines and jail time are to be applied towards each person who knowingly attends the church services, or directed to the church leadership and not the congregants. So far we have not heard back from her but will update accordingly.
So there you have it.
Unlike most states which have either requested or suggested that church services of 50 or more be shut down, or have not put any weight behind it, Governor Ralph Northam has now officially made it a crime to attend service and gather with other believers with real consequences.
You can be fined or jailed for worshipping the Lord, hearing from the word of God, and receiving communion.
When it was a request to stop gathering, it could be argued that it was a matter of conscience to hold services online for the time being. But when Liquor stores are deemed “essential services” and may stay open, but Churches, where the gospel is preached and the majesty of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, are demanded to be shut down under threat of force to the point of imprisonment, perhaps it is no longer.