Charges filed by the Michigan attorney general against six barbers who protested lockdown orders by Demcratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year have been dropped.
The haircutters claimed the restrictions in response to COVID-19 deprived them of their incomes and livelihoods.
“Our clients are pleased that Judge [Kristen D.] Simmons recognized and upheld their constitutional rights,” said lawyer David A. Kallman, whose organization handled the cases.
“It is a relief that they no longer face the prospect of having a criminal record and potential jail time for merely exercising their right to peaceably speak out,” he continued. “If a person protests certain issues, the governor will ignore her own orders and walk with you; but if a person protests the governor, she will prosecute you and attempt to destroy your business.”
The six are Danielle Ashcraft, Suzanne Dodoro, Londa Gatt, Angela Rigas, Brenda Root and Rachel Sheeran.
They protested in support of Owosso barber Karl Manke in Operation Haircut Protest on May 20.
Some 20 hair stylists were cutting hair that day at the state Capitol, yet only seven were criminally prosecuted, Kallman said.
They still face licensing complaints that also were brought by the state.
The protest was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition.
“All citizens have a First Amendment right to protest government action that destroys their livelihood and their ability to support their families,” Kallman’s report said. “No one should live under the threat of losing their liberty and business license merely for speaking out and protesting the governor’s actions.
“As it turned out, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with the protestors by ruling that Gov. Whitmer’s EOs issued last year were unconstitutional and unenforceable. Yet, even after the Supreme Court ruling, the AG refused to dismiss the criminal charges,” Kallman reported.
The motion requesting dismissal was based on First Amendment and due process constitutional violations, and statutory language that allowed the barbers to cut hair at “special events” such as Operation Haircut, Kallman said.
Manke, in his 70s, had reopened his shop after Whitmer’s orders, arguing he needed to pay bills.
He appealed to the state Supreme Court after an appeals order sent his dispute back to a county circuit judge for an order closing the shop.
At the time, Manke was practicing the recommended safety precautions in use at numerous businesses the governor had allowed to open, including physical distancing, masks, handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer.
Fox News reported at the time that when a judge refused to sign an order closing Manke’s shop, state officials retaliated by ordering his barber and shop licenses suspended.
Manke has run a barber shop for nearly 60 years.
Whitmer had ordered barbershops to close because of COVID-19 but allowed other businesses to remain open.
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