Shortly after police ticketed a man protesting outside an abortion clinic in Detroit, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer clarified that activity protected by the First Amendment is exempt from her stay-at-home order.
The protester, Andrew Belanger, filed a federal lawsuit against Whitmer and the Detroit Police Department shortly he was cited by Detroit police officer while “preaching, holding a pro-life sign and practicing social distancing” outside the Scotsdale Women’s Center on March 31.
According to The Blaze, at least eight officers came on the scene, threatening Belanger and others with arrest if they did not leave.
According to The Detroit News, Whitmer’s office said the governor had carefully considered the orders early in April and was “confident that these actions are lawful and necessary to protect the health and safety of Michiganders during this unprecedented public health emergency.”
Last week, however, Whitmer’s office clarified online that “persons may engage in expressive activities” as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.
The addendum “made clear what was always the case: that the constitutional protections remain in place and the governor is fully committed to protecting them,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said, according to The News.
Robert Muise, an attorney with the American Freedom Law Center representing Belanger, said his client would consider the goals of the lawsuit “accomplished” if the city agreed to dismiss the citation.
Muise argued that the citation violated Belanger’s First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion and his 14th Amendment Right to equal protection under the law. The protest, Muise added, should have been allowed under Whitmer’s order because it exempted outdoor activity.
Whitmer’s broad, restrictive orders have been among the most oppressive—and confusing—by any governor in the name of slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We asked the governor’s office, and they wouldn’t give us any direction. We can’t get any direction from the Michigan Department of Agriculture,” said Damon Glei, owner of Glei’s Orchards and Greenhouses, according to The Bridge.
Amid conflicting interpretations of what is and is not banned under Whitmer’s order, Glei is one of many retailers of plants, seeds, and garden supplies in the state frustrated by the lack of guidance clarifying whether or not they can do business.
Even children’s car seats were subject to confusion after Whitmer’s muddled definitions of “essential” items and services led some retailers tape off sections of their stores that sold these items.
The View co-host Meghan McCain criticized Whitmer’s order in a tweet on Sunday, saying, “Guess it’s good I don’t live in Michigan – otherwise how would I transport my child home from the hospital. @GovWhitmer?” The post showed a sign in front of car seats at a Walmart saying items in the “non-essential” area will no longer be available for purchase.
Guess it’s good I don’t live in Michigan – otherwise how would I transport my child home from the hospital @GovWhitmer? Are you going to ban cribs next? Being pregnant during this time is insanely stressful – we are all doing our best. Shame on you for doing this @GovWhitmer https://t.co/f5JH1RhHHt
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) April 12, 2020
Whitmer responded to the tweet, explaining that car seats are in fact still available for purchase in spite of retailer confusion.
Hi Meghan! Our Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order does not ban the purchasing of car seats for children. You can read this FAQ and more here: https://t.co/5QubvhT61t
Wishing your family well, and happy Easter! pic.twitter.com/ookOvAImQF
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) April 12, 2020
Whitmer’s order also bans most travel from one residence to another, as well as “public and private gatherings of any size are prohibited,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
“Right now, my immediate concern is trying to keep everyone in Michigan safe,” the governor said at a news conference. “It’s okay to be frustrated, it’s okay to be angry, and if it makes you feel better to direct it at me, that’s okay too, I’ve got thick skin.”
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