BEND, Ore. (AP) — A prosecutor in Bend, Oregon, declined on Tuesday to file criminal charges against protesters who participated in a demonstration on a public sidewalk against the governor’s mask-wearing mandate.
The protesters’ constitutional rights to assembly and free speech outweighed the need to enforce Gov. Kate Brown's mask mandate, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said in a statement. He noted that the Nov. 21 protest was not violent or destructive.
Four people called the police after seeing people protesting without wearing a mask. Brown's order requires Oregon residents to wear a mask while with anyone from outside their household if individuals cannot maintain six feet of distance between each other. The rule applies both indoors and outdoors and has generated pushback from some who find it too restrictive.
Police interviewed the event organizer, who said he disagreed with the mandate, found it unconstitutional and believes wearing a mask should be an individual choice.
Hummel said the mask mandate was constitutional, but in this instance, he felt the protesters’ rights took precedence.
“My philosophy is content neutral, meaning, it applies to people who gather for ‘liberal’ causes and to people who gather for ‘conservative’ causes,” Hummel wrote.
“I encourage people to wear masks and maintain social distance so we can save lives, save businesses, and save parent’s sanity by getting kids back to school.”