Around a dozen people representing five or six different church groups in Moscow have been gathering outside City Hall to applaud city workers, and participants say they plan to continue the effort until election day.
Each day, a small collection of people stand in the parking lot outside Moscow City Hall — carefully spaced six feet apart and wearing masks — holding signs bearing slogans like “Thank you city council!” and “We’re not blue — wearing a mask 4 U,” in the hopes of buoying city employees. Participating congregations have also sent care packages to city facilities containing snacks and messages of support.
Organizers said the effort is in response to a series of anti-mask protests and “psalm sings” hosted by Moscow’s Christ Church last week, which they said resulted in an outpouring of antipathy toward city employees after the gaining national notoriety on Fox News, Brietbart and other outlets.
“They were getting bombarded with vitriol by supporters of the folks who gathered here on Wednesday and then came back on Friday to flaunt the mask order,” explained Rev. Mary Beth Rivetti with St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Moscow, saying many local churches, including her own, support mask mandates. “We care about one another, you can’t be a Christian all by yourself, you have to be a Christian in community.”
At the first “psalm sing” event last Wednesday, five people were cited for not wearing masks and three were arrested, including Latah County commissioner candidate Gabriel Rench, for allegedly resisting or obstructing an officer and failing to provide identification. Rench spoke of the episode on the Fox political talk show “The Ingraham Angle” the next day.
The following Saturday, Idaho Falls Republican and State Senator Chad Christensen helped to organize another anti-mask gathering which drew around 100 people.
Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert issued the initial public health emergency order requiring face masks in most public settings where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained in late June. Moscow City Council later extended the order by resolution multiple times, with the most recent extension ending Jan. 5.
Cydnie Gray, who is participating in the gatherings in support of city workers, said while some groups feel their liberties are being compromised by municipal health and safety orders, other faith communities in Moscow support the order.
She said after speaking to almost everyone gathered outside Moscow City Hall Thursday, she found almost all those in attendance come from different churches.
“All of these really strong faith leaders in town have come out to show their support for our city employees,” Gray said. “Especially now, after we’ve had so much turmoil from dissenters from out of town, I think that it’s even more important for other religious leaders to speak up.”
Moscow City Supervisor Gary Reidner said in an email that the number of messages to city employees from people objecting to local health and safety orders has dropped since last week. He said while many have included vulgar language and predicted dire legal and political fallout from the orders, none contained direct threats to city employees.
Regardless, Gray said she and other participants wanted to make sure city employees know they have the support of some in the community.
She said she does not think the gatherings hosted by Christ Church and others are reflective of the Moscow community as a whole.
“The amount of harassment and a vitriol and antagonization that our city employees received after Christ Church’s stunt — it must be overwhelming,” Gray said. “We don’t want the loudest voices to be the only ones that are heard.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.