Residents of South Whidbey banded together this past week to host a Freedom to Worship protest. Numerous challenges have arisen in 2020; one of the greatest threats due to state and county policy has been the impact on the exercise of worship by church attendees. Government regulations on gathering size and locale have greatly hindered churches’ ability to host worship service without going against compliance mandates. To date, most churches and their leadership have opted for compliance instead of protesting infringements on their right to worship. This kind of response by churches has led the faithful in search of other congregations or organizations that refuse to bow to government intimidation on their fundamental rights.
In addition to churchgoers, numerous candidates for local, state, and federal offices also have expressed concern that the impact of government regulations, while well-intentioned, has detrimentally impacted the health of the local community. Write-In Candidate for Lt. Governor Joshua Freed, a speaker at the event, stated, “We serve an awesome God. I can’t help but to worship and thank Him for the great gifts he has given. Praise is a natural outpouring in response to His love for us.” Also, in attendance at the event was candidate for Congress, Tim Hazelo. When asked why he supported the exercising of constitutional rights, Mr. Hazelo offered, “As an American, let alone a candidate for congress of the freest nation on God’s green earth. I feel as if I need to do more than talk about our rights, so I choose to actively participate in exercising our rights actively as often as possible, especially when it comes to our God-given right to pray and worship. I will not back down or compromise my morals on this. I hope to see you all at every assembly exercising our rights.”
Only a society with a very narrow view of health could construe that isolation and infringement of community patterns of life are in all our citizens’ best interest. The administration of communion, among other sacraments, represents one of the most fundamental rhythms of life for churchgoers of any age. Online presentations, the typical alternative to in-person worship, make up the vast majority of islanders’ options. The other choice being heavy restrictions on gathering size and abusive muzzling techniques restrictive of congregational singing, fellowship, prayers, praise, and communion, i.e., worship. The regulations do not go unnoticed by event organizers who expressed their reasons for encouraging such an event.
When asked about the inspiration behind the event, Erik Rohde, an event organizer from the Washington 3%, stated, “So many people and families were negatively impacted by the government’s response to COVID 19. People can barely even recognize their society anymore. We never imagined that government regulations would reach so far as to touch fundamental rights that were taken for granted. Fundamentally, worship is the most sacred event in a person of faith’s week. Whidbey Island and Washington residents have struggled without the ability to exercise that right for months. We wanted to host an event where people could remember that they are free to worship, and they don’t need the government’s permission to exercise that right.”
Attendance at the service required no ecumenical affiliation with a denomination or church. People contributed to a potluck and appeared prepared for either rain or shine. News of the event sparked concerns from some citizens related to the organizers specifically aimed at accusations of white supremacy. To the ICFP’s knowledge, none of the citizens making such claims either attended the event or regularly worship at a church that any of the protestors or organizers ordinarily frequent.
The worship service appeared to represent multiple faith backgrounds and a diversity of family ethnicities. These observations are superficial, as the ICFP did not actively engage in querying ethnicity in the middle of worship or during the potluck, which seemed to be the acceptable practice.
There were also concerns from citizens not at the event regarding armed security guards’ presence. The ICFP did notice several citizens exercising their constitutional gun rights as well. Their presence did not appear to detract from families singing songs or being present for the reading of Scripture. The Free Press could not determine how many people were carrying weapons unless they were open carrying, though we admittedly did not count. There was no brandishment of firearms, nor was there any discussion specifically regarding the presence of firearms. Surprisingly, most of the speakers focused their talk on God’s Word, his will for his people to worship him, and the government infringing on those two principles.
When asked about the presence of firearms, Rohde stated, “Rights exist only if they are exercised. No permission of the state is required for G-D given human rights. These aren’t gun rights and worship rights at stake; our civil rights are at stake. Our republic’s very foundation is predicated on the fact that our nation is bottom-up. We don’t elect commissars and leaders but representatives. Individual liberty and consent of the governed allowed our nation to become a beacon for the masses fleeing tyranny’s atrocities in many forms. Sadly many American citizens now fear that the horrors of history are taking hold here. They wonder what elected person will fix this. They hope Inslee will allow them to worship, work, gather. That’s ridiculous. They fear arrest for not wearing a mask. They fear attacks based on their political beliefs. We want to remind everyone that these fundamental rights have been perverted to a mitigated privilege by the state, but our rights are truly rights. Rights can’t be taken, only surrendered, and we will not surrender our right to assemble and worship in peace.”
Overall, I was pleased to be invited to such an event and was glad to bring my family along to express our heartful gratefulness to God despite great trials this year. Despite the government’s best efforts, there remains a strong contingent of freedom-loving worshipers of God on Whidbey Island. If you want to know where they are, listen for the congregational singing sprinkled with children laughing next Sunday.