A court has just ruled in favour of Gabriel Rench who was arrested on Sept 23, 2020, when nearly 200 believers gathered to worship and praise God during an outdoor service in the parking lot of the city hall in Moscow, Idaho.
The event, called Psalm Sing, was sponsored by Christ Church and according to Gabriel Rench, who serves as a church deacon, they had been holding services for several months with no problem. The church believed its right to worship is guaranteed under the US Constitution.
But the Sept. 23 service would prove to be different. Police were in attendance and arrested three people including Gabriel Rench as the group was singing “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” Though they were not wearing masks, neither were most of the people attending the service.
The police had arrested the three for violating the mayor’s emergency health order. But according to Michael Jacques, a lawyer with the Thomas Moore Society who represented Rench, under this legislation, the city exempted “[a]ny and all expressive and associative activity that is protected by the United States and Idaho Constitutions, including speech, press, assembly and/or religious activity.”
After they were handcuffed and led away, some were wondering if they were living in Moscow, Russia, rather than Moscow, Idaho.
Shortly after the arrest, Toby Sumpter, a local radio show host in the community pointed to the city’s obvious double standard:
“… If you can have a Black Lives Matter rally in Moscow, Idaho, in the middle of July — completely unharassed — and then you have a few hundred Christians singing praises to Jesus and they’re getting arrested, what has happened to your country?”
In mid-January, 2021, a judge ruled that Rench had the constitutional right to worship and his arrest was actually illegal and tossed out the charges.
Speaking for the Thomas Moore Society, an organization dedicated to protecting religious freedom, Michael Jacques added:
“Mr. Rench and the other worshippers who were arrested had their constitutionally protected liberties violated and their lives disrupted – not only by the inappropriate actions of law enforcement officers, but also by city officials who did not immediately act to correct this unlawful arrested.”
What happened in Moscow is very similar to what took place in Philippi, when Paul and Silas were arrested after they had cast a demon of divination out of a slave girl. The owners who had been making a profit from the girl were outraged and incited a mob that forcibly dragged Paul and Silas before the local magistrates who ordered them to be “severely” beaten and thrown in prison.
Now there was a miraculous intervention that night as Paul and Silas were ironically singing, an earthquake sprung open the prison doors and loosened the stocks on their legs. But rather than using this opportunity to escape, Paul and Silas remained in their cell and this led to the jailer, who was personally liable for any prison breaks, converting to Christianity.
But there may have been another reason for Paul and Silas’ refusal to leave.
The next day the magistrates sent a message to the jail telling Paul and Silas they were free to go. But again Paul and Silas would not leave their cell and instead sent a message back to the magistrate asking what right they had to imprison a Roman citizen.
Paul was a Roman citizen and under Roman law he had the right to a trial before punishment. Failure to provide these basic rights could result in severe repercussions for those contravening those rights. According to the ancient Roman historian, Tacitus (56 AD to 120 AD), violating a Roman citizen’s rights could result in heavy fines and even a loss of Roman citizenship for the judge, slavery and even death. The false arrest of a Roman citizen could even potentially have repercussions on the whole city where it took place:
37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.
It was obvious from the response of the magistrates that they were very concerned about this change of events.
It seems that Paul was doing more than gaining his freedom, he was standing up to rogue magistrates who had deprived Paul and Silas of their freedoms guaranteed under Roman Law.
Similarly, believers today need to enforce our rights, or we will lose them.