The little town of Burrillville, Rhode Island declared itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary more than a year ago, and now city leaders have adopted a First Amendment Sanctuary resolution as well. The latest resolution is a direct response to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s coronavirus-related executive orders, which many in the town believe go too far. At this week’s Town Council meeting, council members voted 5-2 in favor of the new resolution, though how far the town is willing to go in defying the governor’s orders remains to be seen.
The resolution calls out several of Raimondo’s executive orders related to the virus, citing the stay at home orders and the “cumbersome restrictions” relating to phase one and phase two.
“Never in the history of this country, that I can see, have we ever restricted the free movement and First Amendment rights of healthy people. I’m surprise there has not been any challenges to the constitutionality of this,” said Councilman Jeremy Bailey.
According to the resolution, the council asks for the support of the Burrillville Police Department to use discretion to “not enforce unconstitutional executive orders.”
It adds that the town council will not appropriate town money to fund the executive orders.
“When these executive orders infringe on the constitutional rights of the people of Burrillville, I believe the Town Council has a right to protect them and should not fund those executive orders,” said Councilman Donald Fox.
This sounds a lot like the language of the town’s Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution that passed in April of 2019. In both resolutions, the town objected to moves by the state of Rhode Island, but never specifically stated that gun control or coronavirus restrictions would not be enforced. Instead, they’re relying on the discretion of local police to use common sense in deciding whether or not to enforce the restrictions.
The council raised concerns with the legality of the governor relying on executive orders to pass restrictions without the input of the General Assembly.
“I do believe that the governor’s love affair with her new executive powers in some way needs to be called out and the General Assembly needs to be called out for being AWOL,” said Councilman Dennis Anderson.
Council members said they don’t want them protecting their First Amendment rights to be misconstrued that they are not taking the virus seriously. They noted they have implemented delivery services for the town’s most vulnerable population and are not necessarily against social distancing measures.
“We want people to do whatever is best for our fellow mankind,” said Bailey. “We continue to try to do our best to protect our most vulnerable.”
WJAR-TV in Rhode Island reports that the town of Narragansett also recently proposed a similar resolution, but pulled it from consideration before a vote by the town council. Council members in Burrillville are hoping, however, that their approval of the resolution will lead to other localities to do the same.
Meanwhile, Gov. Raimondo issued a statement of her own in response to the First Amendment Sanctuary resolution, claiming that each of her executive actions fall within the authority granted to her by the state constitution.
The measures we’ve taken—which are fully constitutional—have drastically slowed the spread of the virus, saved lives, and allowed for the gradual reopening of our economy. We expect all Rhode Islanders to comply with our guidance in order to avoid the devastating consequences of a second wave that we’re now seeing in states across the country.
Rhode Island has had more than 16,000 reported cases of COVID-19 with 900 deaths linked to the disease since March of this year, but as the Burillville council members noted, they’re not claiming that the coronavirus is fake news. They’re simply objecting to what they believe to be the unconstitutional manner in which the restrictions were enacted.
Frankly, I hope the Burillville Town Council will go one step further than their resolution and challenge Gov. Raimondo’s executive orders in court. If a majority of the council believes that Raimondo has overstepped her authority, a largely symbolic resolution by itself won’t be enough to undo the measures. Litigation, however, might do the trick. It’s worked in Virginia, where a judge delivered a smackdown to Gov. Ralph Northam over his order closing indoor ranges, and if Burillville’s leaders are serious about opposing the governor, they need to take their objections to a court of law.