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Attorney General Bill Barr has given orders to federal prosecutors to “be on the lookout” for overly confining state and local shut down orders that could be infringing upon American’s constitutional rights, according to Fox News.
Barr issued a statement on Monday, acknowledging that some restrictions are necessary to combat the coronavirus, noted that some could go too far.
“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” Barr said.
The memo continued, “the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy.”
“Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” Barr’s memo said. “But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”
President Trump was asked about Barr’s directive, to which he responded, “Well, you’d have to ask Attorney General Barr, but I think he wants to see — like everybody, he wants to see people get back and he wants to see people get back to work.”
“He doesn’t want people to be held up when there’s no reason for doing it. In some cases, perhaps it’s too strict. He wants to make sure people have the rights and they maintain the rights, very importantly.”
Barr also noted that he is placing the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan in charge of the department’s efforts to monitor and coordinate state and local policies.
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The Justice Department previously filed a statement of interest in a Mississippi lawsuit, siding with a church after local officials tried to stop Holy Week services broadcasting to people sitting in their cars in the parking lot.
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While some states are in the process of loosening restrictions as the number of cases decreases, others remain as vigilant as ever. Protests have popped up in some areas of the country as shutdown orders have resulted in a skyrocketing unemployment rate.
In a recent appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program, Barr said some state orders were “disturbingly close to house arrest.” He said that while the goal was to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, that goal has largely been achieved and states should now use “more targeted approaches.”
Attorney General William Barr said protective actions the federal government is taking should not be at the cost of individual liberty.
The Trump administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended social distancing guidelines, forcing some businesses and religious institutions to close their doors.
During an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on “The Ingraham Angle,” Barr cautioned that this cannot continue.
“Generally speaking, there are occasions where liberties have to be restricted during certain emergencies such as war,” Barr said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic was one such case. “In this case, a potentially devastating pandemic.”
“But they have to be balanced,” he cautioned, the Western Journal reports.
“Whatever steps you take have to be balanced against the civil liberties of the American people and it cannot be used as an excuse for broad deprivations of liberty,” he continued. “As things proceed, we’re going to be interested in both what the federal government is imposing and also making sure that that’s justified and also what the states did.”
The attorney general said society stands upon the shoulders of religious liberty and that it should tread lightly to restrict.
“Religious liberty is the first liberty,” Barr said. “It’s the foundation of our republic, and free society depends upon a vibrant religious life among the people. Any time that’s encroached upon by the government I’m very, very concerned.”
He said current restrictions should not unnecessarily continue or worsen.
“I would hate to see restrictions on religion continue longer than they’re strictly necessary,” he said.
Barr also said the federal government should consider other options to limit people’s travel and public grouping without trampling rights.
“When this 30-day period ends, I think we have to consider alternative ways of protecting people,” he said per the Western Journal.
Barr said the government should pay attention to “the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified and there are not alternative ways of protecting people.”
“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,” he continued via the report.
The Western Journal adds:
Pressed by Ingraham about potential church closings that might be imposed locally or by states even after the federal period of restrictions is lifted, Barr said the Justice Department “has seen situations where some jurisdictions have imposed special burdens on religion that they were not also applying to other kinds of gatherings and events. We jawboned the local governments at that point saying they simply couldn’t do that.”
“We’re going to keep an eye on all these actions that restrict people’s religious liberty,” he said, while continuing to defend his claim that in a situation akin to “wartime, the government can impose certain restrictions.”
Barr also cautioned against the future use of governmental power during an emergency.
“There is a power for the government to take extraordinary steps in genuine emergencies,” he said. “That obviously creates a slippery slope: What do you call an emergency?
“And I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency, and then using these kinds of sweeping extraordinary steps,” Barr concluded per the report.
Watch the full interview below: