At the beginning of the year, the world was hit with a new virus. By the end of January, many countries were quarantining individuals who had traveled outside of the country. Within the next few months, there was a slow trickle of curfews, quarantines, restrictions, and mandates put in place. By April, half of the world’s population was in lockdown. Streets were desolate, parks uninhabited, and a seemingly quiet world. After months and months in quarantine and essential workers working tirelessly, restrictions began to lift. As summer approached the US, many people were trying to create a new normal. Our little town of Woodland Park banded together during these long 8 months and managed to stay under the radar of the virus’s wrath. Students were able to return to school and sports and adults to their jobs. Just as soon as life had a sense of normalcy, the cases began to rise, jeopardizing everything that our community worked so hard for. In early October, Charis Bible College hosted the “Ministers’ Conference 2020”. This conference caused the cases in Teller County to rise and threatened to backtrack how far our town has come. In late October, Teller County was averaging 6 new cases per day. Now, come November, and the school district is restricting how many people can come to school and the promise of a full-time online schedule could be on the horizon. The Teller County community is rather split on the issue; does the constitution exempt churches from the governor’s ruling or is Andrew Wommack Ministries irresponsibly holding gatherings, knowing that they are a large cause for the spike in covid cases? The public servants of Teller County, as well as the group in question, shared their thoughts and perspectives on this issue.
Holly Meade, the director of communications for Liberty Counsel and the spokesperson for Charis declined to answer my specific questions, but sent me a lengthy list of articles describing the events leading up to and during the lawsuit filed against Andrew Wommack Ministries. All of which contained wording that states that Colorado officials have no grounds to suspend their gatherings. In one of the articles titled, “AWMI Responds to Bogus Request for an Injunction”, Charis claims that they have the right to gather because of the First Amendment. “The defendants” (Teller County Public Health) motion has grave deficiencies and must be denied. For example, the defendants first sought relief in the form of an injunction pending appeal at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the wrong court. Then when they filed in the correct court, they filed the wrong motion that has no legal or factual support. The only law at issue in the District Court case filed by AWMI is the First Amendment, which AWMI could not violate anyway. The First Amendment protects private individuals or organizations against government restrictions on free speech and the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment does not give authority to the government to restrain the speech of private actors.” This is where the controversy sets in; is Charis in the wrong or is Teller County Public Health?
At the front of the battle, Jacqueline Revello, the director of Teller County Public Health shares her perspective on the rise of Covid cases in Teller County, “Andrew Wommack Ministries, Incorporated (AWMI) where Charis Bible College is located has been hosting large events that exceed the public health order. These events have been linked to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks. We know that this creates risk and has resulted in increased COVID cases not only in Teller County, but in neighboring counties, and even in other states. Teller County is currently in litigation with AWMI to try to suppress the impact their events are having on our COVID case count, but also to partner with them to help them balance their goals with our community safety and health.” When asked what she wants the public to know, Revello answers with “Teller County Public Health & Environment’s responsibility is to protect & preserve the health of Teller County residents. We NEED our community members to work with us in order to improve health outcomes and the current COVID pandemic is the greatest opportunity to do that than we have ever seen.” Teller County public health is pleading for people to follow the state guidelines; not only will this help flatten the curve of cases, but will also take some weight off of public health and hospitals. It is vital that everyone works together to reverse this trend.
With that being said, why isn’t the Woodland Park Police Department enforcing the state mandates? Woodland Park’s information officer, Andrew Leibbrand, provided some insight on this hot topic. “There isn’t a law in the Colorado Revised Statutes that we would be able to charge someone for. Because of this, the mandate has to be enforced through the Department of Health. As I am sure you have seen in the news, the Department of Health just sued Charis on this issue. The City of Woodland Park has been keeping track of COVID complaints and when appropriate, we have been educating the public and businesses.” Despite all of the accusations and questions, it is important to know that the people whose job it is to serve and protect, are doing just that. This is a slippery slope and the best that we all can do is support each other and think as a whole, rather than individually and selfishly.
The thing that makes Teller County so wonderful is the fact that we are a tight-knit community and that we care for each other. Throughout this whole pandemic, many of us have lost sight of this idea. The want for human interaction and normalcy overpowered the want to keep community members safe. We aren’t going to make it out stronger if we have a self-centered attitude and don’t comply with the mandates passed down by people whose job it is to keep us safe.