It has come to my attention that St. Mary’s County churches are being subjected to a program of “Sunday morning soft surveillance.” Individuals dressed in civilian clothes, arriving in civilian vehicles have been observed surveilling local church services. Is the purpose of this extralegal activity the enforcement the Governor’s 10-person limit?
The 10-person occupancy rule appears to be an unfortunate governmental over-reach. While there are Coronavirus hotspots in Maryland, such as Baltimore, the on-the-ground realities in many Maryland counties do not seem to warrant such drastic measures. Certainly, St. Mary’s is one such county.
Under the Governor’s executive orders, the big box stores remain open, allowing unlimited numbers of patrons, many crammed together much closer than the mandated six feet, with few of them wiping off cart handles, and virtually no one wearing a facemask. Meanwhile, the Governor’s decrees prohibit restaurants from providing on-site dining. This is discriminatory and grossly unfair to those businesses and their employees who now are deprived of the opportunity to make a living. A significant number of these citizens will soon be unable to pay rent, make mortgage payments, cover the utilities and buy food for their families. Unprecedented levels of business closures are wreaking havoc with the markets and imperiling the health of the banking system.
The 10-person limit has virtually closed down on-site religious services, resulting in reduced congregant contributions. These contributions support essential services to low-income persons, including homeless shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens. Many view this limit as an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
Sadly, the executive orders force the curtailment of the operation of doctors’ offices, resulting in postponement of previously scheduled appointments and necessary medical treatments.
The Governor’s April 1, 2020 communications outline his attempt to micromanage medical and religious institutions and provide him a ready rationale for the utilization of the State Police for enforcement.
To ensure both reasonable public health protections and constitutional liberties, Governor Hogan should immediately revise his executive orders to allow a local government option for a 50-person occupancy limit. I fear that a continuation of this draconian, one-size-fits-all approach will be perceived by the injured citizens of St. Mary’s County as an affront to their well-being and solid evidence and reasoning to hold the Governor personally accountable for their various losses.
-Cynthia L. Jones
St. Mary’s County Commissioner 2010-2013