On December 7, 2022, the American Freedom Law Center filed a federal civil rights complaint against the City of Moscow, Idaho, and several of its officials, including three police officers. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nathan Wilson, and his two sons, Rory and Seamus. Seamus is a minor.
The City of Moscow (appropriately named) is a blue dot in the largely red (freedom-loving conservatives) state of Idaho. Within this tyrannically liberal City is a conservative, Christian community, many of whom belong to Christ Church. The pastor of this church is Douglas Wilson, the father of Nathan Wilson. And, of course, Nathan and his children are active members of this Christian community.
Like most tyrannical liberals, during this past COVID crisis, the City of Moscow imposed severe and absurd lockdowns on liberty.
For example, in early September 2020, Nathan’s son Rory was threatened with arrest by City police officers because he was allegedly standing too close to his cousin without a mask. Rory and his cousin were outdoors at the time.
On September 23, 2020, Rory and his brother Seamus participated in an outdoor Psalm sing organized by their grandfather, Douglas Wilson, the pastor of Christ Church.
Members of the Christ Church engaged in the Psalm sing to protest the City’s draconian COVID-19 lockdown orders, which were issued without public consent while ignoring public input. The Psalm sing protest took place in the outdoor parking lot of the Moscow City Hall.
Despite the fact that the City’s COVID-19 orders exempted religious activities, City police officers arrived and began making arrests. Charges were filed against the arrested participants, but they were later dropped.
The City established a slogan to justify its crackdowns, and City officials posted that slogan on signs around the City. The City’s slogan was “ENFORCED BECAUSE WE CARE.”
Before all charges against the Psalm-sing participants were dropped, Nathan Wilson assisted with creating decals to protest the City’s draconian COVID-19 orders and their enforcement, including the arrests made at the Psalm sing because of these orders. Nathan and his business partner paid for the decals because his partner’s brother was one of the Psalm-sing participants arrested.
The decals were small (most were 3 inches in size and some were 8 inches), made of vinyl, and were non-damaging. That is, they were the type of decals that could be applied and removed easily without causing any damage or leaving any residue.
Some of the decals created stated, “SOVIET MOSCOW,” and they included a hammer and sickle. The majority of the decals bore an image of the hammer and sickle and stated, “SOVIET MOSCOW: ENFORCED BECAUSE WE CARE,” in protest to the City’s draconian and tyrannical COVID-19 orders (collectively referred to as “Soviet Moscow protest decals”). A copy of a Soviet Moscow protest decal appears below:
On October 6, 2020, Rory and Seamus posted Soviet Moscow protest decals on City property, particularly at locations where other decals, stickers, and handbills were or have been posted in the past. These locations include City light poles, parking poles, and signs. Rory and Seamus engaged in this expressive activity to protest the City’s tyrannical COVID-19 orders.
It is an accepted and routine practice in the small university City to post messages, specifically including commercial messages, political messages, and messages on matters of public interest, on poles and other City property throughout the City. The City permits this practice and has created a forum for speech by doing so.
Consequently, many poles in the City display hundreds of various decals and fliers expressing various messages. In addition to permitting the use of the poles for expressing various messages, the City permits the posting of thousands of yard signs, lost pet fliers, and handbills with political and other public-issue messages at various public locations on a regular basis.
These practices have been permitted by the City for decades. Below are pictures of the Soviet Moscow protest decals placed alongside other postings in the City, and these Soviet Moscow protest decal postings served as a basis for the arrests and/or prosecutions of the Wilsons.
Other examples of permitted postings appear in the images below:
On October 6, 2020, the City Police Department received a call reporting two people placing decals on poles and signs. Two officers (defendants in this case) responded to the complaint on foot. One officer (also a defendant in this case) responded in a squad car.
Upon the arrival of the defendant police officers, Rory and Seamus were walking on the public sidewalk. The police officers summoned the two boys, and the boys complied and walked to the officers. Rory and Seamus were respectful, and they did not attempt to flee.
To comply with the “masking” order in effect at the time, Rory and Seamus wore hijabs. They chose hijabs as their mandated masks because if they were going to be oppressed, they wanted to look oppressed.
Upon the arrival of the defendant police officers, two officers forcefully placed Rory in handcuffs, forced him to the ground, and proceeded to interrogate him. Rory was not free to leave, and yet the officers did not advise him of his rights required by Miranda before interrogating him. An image of officers placing Rory in handcuffs (right) while his brother Seamus (left) observes and is interrogated by a City police officer appears below:
In consideration of the alleged crime (posting non-damaging, Soviet Moscow protest decals on poles, a practice long permitted by the City), the threat to the officers (none, as Rory unarmed, and he was obedient and respectful throughout), the fact that Rory was not resisting arrest, and in light of the totality of the circumstances, the force used by the officers against this youth was excessive.
While two officers detained Rory, an officer moved Seamus away from his brother and placed him on the squad car’s brush guard where he was interrogated and threatened with a felony conviction. For prolonged periods of time, and in an effort to harass and intimidate the juvenile, the officer positioned his tactical flashlight directly in Seamus’s face. An image of the officer shining his tactical flashlight directly into Seamus’s face during the officer’s interrogation appear below:
When the police officers told the boys that they would be charged with felony destruction of property, the boys offered to remove all of the non-damaging decals, but they were told by the officers that it was now too late.
After detaining the two boys, an officer called Nathan to come pick up his sons. When Nathan arrived, an officer confronted him, immediately telling Nathan that he didn’t agree with the “messaging” of the decals. The officer was visibly angry about the messaging.
Nathan told the officer that he wanted to go to his sons, who appeared in distress by their treatment, and the officer told him, “No, we are not done with them.”
Nathan especially wanted to go to his minor son and could not imagine why a parent would not be allowed to approach.
When an officer asked Nathan if he had anything to do with producing the decals, Nathan said, “I’m gonna go ahead and plead the Fifth on that one,” which further angered the officer.
The officers eventually released the boys from their “custody”—the officer’s language—into the custody of their father, informing Nathan and his sons that the City Attorney’s office would be apprised of the incident.
The City later dispatched workers to remove the Soviet Moscow protest decals from the downtown area. The workers only removed the Soviet Moscow protest decals and left every other decal, sticker, or poster in place, including stickers directly insulting the Wilson’s Christian community.
Some of the insulting stickers included messages such as “F**k Christ Church,” “All Kirkers Are Bastards” on a little blue cross sticker that imitates and thus mocks the church’s logo, and “NSA GET OUT.” NSA is a Christian college associated with Christ Church, and Kirkers is a local nickname for members of Christ Church.
Some of the insulting stickers that the City workers allowed to remain were placed on the same surfaces/locations as the Soviet Moscow protest decals. The City also allowed other Left-leaning political messages such as “F**k Trump” and “Immigrants Welcome.”
Months later (March 2021) and following strong public opposition to the City and its officials for selectively enforcing the City’s laws against the Wilsons, the City sent street crews out once again to clean the poles. But even then, the City chose to leave stickers attacking Christ Church.
Indeed, the discrimination against the Wilsons and their church was so blatant, locals started a “Permitted Signs of Moscow, Idaho” Facebook group, where public members of the group can post pictures of stickers, flyers, and other signs currently allowed in the City. These “permitted signs” include, among others, “F**k Christ Church,” “Obey the Cult” (with an image of Nathan Wilson’s father, the pastor of Christ Church), and the “All Kirkers Are Bastards,” sticker.
Days after the City dispatched its first group of workers to remove the Soviet Moscow protest decals, a City police officer (one of the defendants) delivered citations to the Wilson’s home, and told Nathan that both of his sons were being charged with 13 misdemeanors each and that he was being charged as an accessory.
The officer added that the crime they were being charged with was the crime most commonly committed by posting “lost cat fliers and yard sale signs.” More specifically, the officer told Nathan that they were all charged with a violation of a City ordinance which generally forbids the placing of a sign or flier or other advertising matter on a pole without permission.
Nathan asked if City police officers ever handcuffed and interrogated individuals they suspected of having placed a lost cat flier on a pole. The officer declined to answer.
The fact is that the City has never prosecuted, let alone arrested and handcuffed, anyone under this City ordinance for posting flyers or decals on poles in the City.
The City proceeded with the prosecution of Rory, but charges were eventually dismissed against Nathan and Seamus, after
As set forth in the complaint:
This case seeks to protect and vindicate fundamental rights. It is a civil rights action brought under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging Defendants’ unlawful actions and selective enforcement of the law that were motivated by Defendants’ hostility toward Plaintiffs and their political and religious viewpoints and religious beliefs.
The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and damages.