A group of conservative activists concerned with the constitutional legality of Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders restricting gatherings in the state plans to hold a public protest at the Washington state Capitol this weekend.
The event is called “Hazardous Liberty! Defend the Constitution!” and is slated to take place from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. No speakers or scheduled activities are expected to take place, and event organizers say they will be advising social distancing for participants.
Tyler Miller, the event’s organizer and state committeeman of the Kitsap County Republican Party, said the goal of the event is to gather the attention of the governor and have him reverse orders that they say infringe on the public’s right to gather.
Miller said he would cancel their scheduled event if Inslee walks back his orders.
“I don’t disagree with the social distancing. I don’t disagree with the CDC guidelines,” Miller said. “But those should all be at the liberty of individuals to make that choice. It cannot be a mandate of the state, and that’s where it crosses that constitutional bound.”
The event will be small, Miller said. He and other organizers will be advising social distancing on Sunday, but he said it won't be enforced.
The event is likely to draw citizens who openly carry firearms, but Miller said he’d advise against protesters bringing their long rifles due to the optics of the situation.
“I’m not going to quash anybody’s liberty at this event that is designed to defend liberty,” he said. “That’d make me kind of a hypocrite.”
Miller says Inslee’s restrictions on public gatherings and the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order infringe on Washington citizens’ rights to petition and peacefully assemble.
Specifically, he believes the governor’s orders violate article one, section four of the Washington state Constitution, which states, “the right of petition and of the people peaceably to assemble for the common good shall never be abridged.”
Over the last week, Inslee has praised Washingtonians for their strong efforts to socially distance themselves while also urging residents of the state to continue efforts to slow the virus’s spread.
"If we behave like we have gone back to normal, if we stop physical distancing, it could undo all our progress,” Inslee said in a public statement on April 9. “It could get more people sick. It could get people killed. The threat of this virus is just as deadly now as it was on March 23 when I directed Washingtonians to stay home and stay healthy. We simply have to commit to the charge from public health to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
On the protest’s Facebook page, organizers are urging people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and those who aren’t feeling well to stay home. About 227 Facebook users have indicated they will attend, and 692 were interested as of Wednesday evening.
“As much as is practical we will practice prudent distancing and PPE measures. Also, if you're feeling sick or know you've been exposed, or if you're in a high-risk category, please consider not attending,” the event’s Facebook page read. “What I am asking is that the public servants in our government recognize the limits placed upon them by our constitutions.”
The governor was asked about the planned protest of his restrictions during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Inslee said protesters are welcome to express their first-amendment rights, but encouraged them to maintain social distancing, something Miller said would be in play.
“I will say if a thousand people showed up this weekend, what I would know is that there would be 6,999,000 Washingtonians who care enough about their families to pitch in a little bit to try to prevent our loved ones from dying,” Inslee said, later thanking those who will not be taking part.
“Good on you,” Inslee said to those who will be staying home.