‘Safer at Home’ Enforcement: A Letter from a Pastor to Local Leaders 

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A Letter from a Pastor to Local Leaders

I just had a phone conversation today with Barron County Sherriff, Chris Fitzgerald. I shared my concerns with him about how government has overstepped its boundaries of authority in response to the threat of Covid-19.

Businesses deemed non-essential by the state have been forced to close. Churches have been ordered not to hold meetings. Private individuals have been told not to meet with friends and family. Now that we are about seven weeks into the shut-down we are finding out that most of the numbers given to us in the beginning have not withstood scientific or common-sense scrutiny.

The threat of this virus has not lived up to the hype.

On top of this concern about being lied to is the additional concern that our state and federal constitutions can be set aside by force whenever the health department deems it necessary.

Chris responded to me by saying that it is his duty to carry out the Governor’s order. Now on the surface this sounds like a reasonable response. However, as a pastor who has seen people suffer emotionally, spiritually, and economically during this shutdown I have a question. What law on the books in Wisconsin is being enforced as we “shelter at home?” Is our local law enforcement elected to carry out orders of the health department above Wisconsin state law?

I believe we live in a time when local leaders, whether they be elected officials, law enforcement, pastors, or business owners, are going to have to make a decision. What are we going to do if laws come down from authorities that call for oppression of businesses and loss of human rights? What are we going to do if churches in our nation are shut down just for the desire to meet? Are we going to join in with the oppression? Are we going to stand by and use the health department as an excuse to not speak up for what is right?

There is an idea in law called the Principle of the Lesser Magistrate. It’s the idea that if a higher authority commands a lower authority to carry out a policy that is immoral or unjust according to the law, the lesser authority has the right and duty to stand down and not follow the order. It is by this principle that military officers can be tried and found guilty for following unlawful and immoral orders from a higher-ranking officer.

It’s come to my attention, through my conversation with the sheriff, that the Barron County Sherriff’s Department has stood by its policy to threaten enforcement of the stay at home order. Gentlemen, I ask you to reconsider this path. I don’t think you entered into law enforcement to shut down the daily activities of law-abiding citizens. We certainly didn’t elect you or hire you for that purpose.

My prayer for our law enforcement is that they will see their responsibility as higher than just taking orders and carrying them out. They have a responsibility to protect the rights of the people as given to us by our Creator.

Paul Poppe
Faith Baptist Church
Chetek, WI