“To forbid people from being on public streets as a preventative measure rings of a totalitarian police state operated for the efficiency of the government and not in the interest of a free people. All citizens are justly concerned about crime. But, that concern must take rational expression and not become a mindless fear that erodes the rights of a free people.”
Our country has been fighting an invisible and dangerous enemy that has undoubtedly caused much sickness and sorrow across our state. We agree that our government should act to protect the citizens from harm; and we acknowledge that they have the power to do so. However, that power is not and cannot be unlimited. Nor can it go unchecked.
As citizens, we believe that fear does not give the government a blank check to revoke the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the citizens in any way it sees fit. Its invasion of rights must be reasonable, necessary, and limited. We have watched our leaders almost brag on the news about being the first to ban something or the one to issue the most restrictive orders. It has become a race to the bottom with perceivably little to no caution of going too far.
Our courts have long been the defenders of the constitution and the final arbiters of what is and what is not constitutional. It appears that we can no longer trust all of our leaders to limit themselves. There is simply too much political pressure encouraging them to suspend constitutional rights at all costs. Many of the actions taken do not even further the government’s interest of halting disease spread. At some point we must say enough.
Lee|Coats Law, along with other 22 other concerned citizens, has filed a Petition for Declaratory Relief and Injunctive Relief against the City of Vinita, Mayor Chuck Hoskin, City Council, City Prosecutor, and Chief of Police Joey Babcock. This suit challenges the constitutionality of Vinita Municipal Supplemental Emergency Ordinance 3725, which was enacted on April 7, 2020. This Ordinance goes far beyond previous actions of the State of Oklahoma and the City of Vinita. It violates numerous constitutional rights of Oklahoma citizens, including the freedom of religion, speech, assembly, travel, and many others.
Last Tuesday afternoon concerned citizens started contacting our law office upset that the City was about to pass a “curfew” and wanted to know if we knew anything about it, which we did not. We obtained a copy of the City Council Agenda and proposed City Ordinance Number 3725. We read through the proposed new Ordinance and very quickly realized it was more than a curfew, it was a 24/7 mandated stay in your home order. It made it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine for anyone to violate it. We were just as appalled as the individuals who called us seeking advice.
We immediately requested permission from the City for our attorney Josh Lee to speak at the public comment portion of the meeting. At the meeting, which was held over Zoom, he tried to caution the City on passing this Ordinance and was even met with a laugh or a sigh from one of the council members when he objected to the action. It was apparent that a majority of the council had already made up its mind that the Ordinance was going to pass. Two council members raised legitimate concerns about the Ordinance and they were quickly dismissed without much discussion. The Ordinance passed by a vote of 5 to 3.
City officials, with Mayor Chuck Hoskin leading the way, have tried their best to mislead the public into believing this is merely a curfew and not a mandatory stay at home order. This is flat out not true. The Ordinance states:
8. Citizens, residents and visitors within the city limits of Vinita shall stay at their home, place of residence or temporary living quarters except when being engaged in traveling to or from work or while engaging in work activities in a critical infrastructure sector, as more particularly described here in above in paragraph (7) and the conduct of essential errands. Essential errands shall mean those errands which are critical to everyday life and includes obtaining medications, groceries, gasoline, and visiting medical providers. A further exclusion to the provisions of this paragraph shall be for personal mental health and exercise as set forth in paragraph (10) hereof.
This Ordinance makes it illegal to travel to any and all locations for any and all reasons other than the following specific locations or reasons:
• Traveling to or from work or while engaging in work activities in a critical infrastructure sector;
• Obtaining medication;
• Obtaining groceries;
• Obtaining gasoline;
• Visiting medical providers; and
• Being outside for personal mental health and exercise. (However this is prohibited between the hours of 10pm and 6am.)
Other than that, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, citizens are prohibited from leaving their home, unless it is for one of the six reasons above. No other reason is provided to be away from one’s home.
This Ordinance makes it illegal to do numerous harmless acts which involve no contact or physical interaction with non-household members. Here are but a few of the many things that are now illegal to do in the City of Vinita, unless it’s work related, regardless of the time of day:
- Traveling to, from, or attending a socially distanced and CDC compliant church service—even if said service is conducted in the parking lot of the church and each attendee sits separately in their own vehicle.
- Traveling to take food to or check on a loved one, even if you do not enter their home.
- Traveling to go hunting alone or with only household members.
- Traveling to go fishing alone or with only household members.
- Driving—even if you are alone in your own car—for no reason other than to get outside.
- Driving by a loved one’s home, without stopping, for a birthday or school parade.
- Walking your dog after 10pm or before 6am, alone or with household members.
- Exercising outside after 10pm or before 6am, alone or with household members.
These restrictions are unacceptable. The Constitutional rights of all who live, reside, or pass through the City limits of Vinita have been revoked by an over zealous government. As citizens, pastors, church parishioners, businesswomen and businessmen of Vinita we have a duty to stand up for the Constitutional rights guaranteed to each of us.
For these reasons we have filed a lawsuit seeking, not money, but a Declaration from the Court that the City has gone too far and an Injunction from the Court prohibiting the City from enforcing this over-broad and unreasonable Ordinance.