At an emergency meeting last night, the Seward City Council passed an emergency ordinance requiring the use of facemasks within city limits when in buildings open to the public. The ordinance was passed in response to the recent increase in the number of positive test results for the coronavirus in Seward.
The ordinance reads, “all individuals in Seward must wear a mask or covering over their nose and mouth in buildings open to the public when they cannot maintain six feet of space between themselves and individuals outside their household.”
Exemptions also allow individuals that are eating or drinking in compliance with State of Alaska public health mandates or individuals receiving lawful services that cannot be adequately performed while the recipient is wearing a facial covering to not wear a mask.
The ordinance also requires the city to limit recreational use of campgrounds to 50 percent of capacity, and prohibits the gathering of groups of 20 or more, except for the purpose of “exercising constitutional rights.”
Part five of the ordinance limits businesses and churches to 50 percent capacity, or ten people, whichever is greater.
The ordnance says, “All eating and drinking establishments, including restaurants, bars, ice cream and specialty food shops, all retail stores, all tours, including sightseeing and ecotourism operations, and all places of worship, shall limit indoor seating capacity to ten (10) people, or no more than 50% of maximum capacity, whichever is greater.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically protects the people’s right to peacefully assemble (especially for religious purposes) and has been interpreted by the courts very broadly. While the courts have also recognized the government’s authority to restrict people’s activities in a state of emergency, including their right to assemble, since the pandemic began courts have issued mixed opinions on government issued mandates concerning the conflict between the two.
The provisions of the city’s ordinance conflict with each other by allowing an exemption for peaceful assembly, which is a constitutional right, while also placing a limit on how many can assemble.
The ordinance is only in effect within the city limits. It will expire in 30 days or if the city declares the emergency to be over.