Local leaders challenging executive order provisions

Randolph DA says he won't prosecute violations

RALEIGH – Local leaders are increasingly challenging provisions in Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders. As the governor says he is relying on the science and the data to make decisions, local leaders are growing frustrated with seemingly moving targets on the three-phase plan as surrounding states move forward with faster reopening timelines. 

Randolph County district attorney Andrew Gregson wrote a letter to the Randolph County commissioners stating his position regarding criminal charges brought for violations of Gov. Cooper’s orders. Gregson said he believed prosecution as a result of the order would invite a serious challenge regarding the order’s legality. 

“As it relates to religious worship the governor’s order gives preferential treatment to secular gatherings, particularly retail shopping” Gregson says in the letter. 

Gregson says his oath of office says he bears the burden of supporting and defending the U.S. and N.C. Constitutions. He says the order cannot survive strict scrutiny under constitutional analysis and violates both constitutions.

“I cannot prevent charges from being brought against someone exercising religious beliefs in Randolph County, but I can and will do what I believe the Constitution requires when charges are brought. As I advised law enforcement in March, it is my opinion that the arrest or charge for violating the governor’s order is an unconstitutional act” Gregson says in closing. 

On Monday night, the county commission in Randolph passed a resolution asking the governor to ease business and religious restrictions.

Johnston County sheriff Steve Bizzell released a statement saying that inconsistent, unfair, and morally wrong to allow retail businesses to operate daily but forbid churchgoers from meeting once per week with safety precautions. “If social distancing and other guidelines are good enough to allow big box stores to operate, why is it not good enough for in person church services?” Bizzell said. “It is as though churches have been treated differently. For example, currently worship services are limited indoors to 10 people, but 50 people can utilize the same space for a funeral.” 

Bizzell went on to say that he and his deputies took an oath to support, maintain, and defend the Constitution for the people of this country and said “lay down my badge and go home” before interfering in the rights of churchgoers to peaceably assemble and exercise their constitutional rights. 

In late April, Gaston County was one of the first to challenge Cooper, announcing they would open for business at the beginning of May. Conflicts among county employees, mayors, and state leaders have kept many of the businesses shuttered. 

Onslow and Randolph have passed resolutions seeking more local control of the coronavirus response. Other counties and municipalities are considering resolutions of their own.