On the short list of items discussed at Westmoreland’s board of supervisors meeting was a resolution sent to them by Rhon Nelson. The document sought to have the county “affirm the Constitutions of the United States and Virginia, declaring Westmoreland County a First Amendment Sanctuary County.”

Familiar territory

The request was reminiscent of the 2nd Amendment Sanctuary movement that popped up across the state back in 2019. Westmoreland County and many of its neighbors signed onto that when citizens were worried that Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring might try to pass gun control legislation that people felt was an infringement on their 2nd Amendment rights. That particular item had so many people speak and attend that it got its own separate night with the board’s meeting room overflowing. Such a thing did not happen this time around. But there still were considerably more people in the meeting room than since the pandemic hit.

The rationale

Nelson presented the resolution and explained the reasoning behind it.

“I wanted to introduce this for your consideration because of the many encroachments on our constitutional rights by imposed mandates,” Nelson explained. “Our federal constitution recognizes that our freedoms and rights come from our creator, and it enumerates several rights in the First Amendment.

“Our right to freedom of religion is guaranteed. Yet, some are closed and remain closed,” Nelson continued, “Second is our freedom of speech and the press. But videos and articles are deleted from websites or access is prevented by companies, and locally, a store has denied permission to display a newspaper that is displayed for free. This indicates an ominous trajectory towards violation of the freedom of the press. Freedom of assembly is also violated by the closing of churches and the requirements for attendees to gather limit their freedoms.’

“Lastly, our right to petition our government? We have been unable to visit certain parts of D.C., federal buildings and museums are closed, and another Virginia county closed its school board meetings to attendees and limits participation and discussion in the public comment period.

“Mandates are being proposed that require face masks and injections in order to keep one’s employment. We have bodily autonomy and the right to make our own decisions of what to wear and what gets injected in us,” Nelson continued.  “I think we need to take a stand locally for what we believe in. Our rights and liberties are under attack at the state and federal levels,” he concluded.

Richard Stuart, the county attorney, chimed in at the behest of Chairman  Darryl Fisher. “I see it as a support for liberties found in the Bill of Rights. A lot of people are upset that churches were closed for such an extended time, and there were court cases over it. The vaccine mandates, obviously, have upset a lot of people too. And while a lot of folks are getting vaccinated, they don’t want to be compelled to make decisions that they believe are against their own best interest.’

“I don’t see where this legally obligates you to anything,” Stuart finished. “I read it as an expression of your support for your community’s basic freedoms.”

The resolution was, in direct contrast with the 2nd Amendment Sanctuary resolution, adopted without much fuss, either from the public or the supervisors much to the delight of those assembled.