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Hundreds Gather At 'Faith and Freedom' Rally In Medford

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April Ehrlich | JPR News
Few people wore face masks, ignoring the advice of the Jackson County Health Department, as they rallied in front of the courthouse.

Several hundred people crowded around the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse Saturday to oppose Gov. Kate Brown's coronavirus restrictions and support a range of conservative causes.

There were signs demanding Brown's recall, signs opposing Oregon’s cap-and-trade bill, and a sign protesting “forced vaccinations.”

A toddler in a stroller held an upside-down sign reading “Reopen Disneyland." An evangelical group held signs showing graphic photos of dead fetuses, calling for the end to a woman's right to abortion.

April Ehrlich | JPR News
Evangelical groups attended Saturday's rally to protest against a woman's right to an abortion.

Rally co-organizer April McDonald said a variety of beliefs fueled the protesters’ anger that morning.

“We feel that our constitutional rights have been infringed upon and we’re not going to stand for it,” McDonald said. “The First Amendment right, the Fourth, the Tenth, the Eleventh ... Our right to gather, our right to go to church, our right to provide for our families, to name a few.”

Oregon has allowed most counties, including Jackson County, to begin the first phase of reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, but McDonald said that’s not enough.

“I think those phases are still infringing on our constitutional rights; we should just open,” she said. “It’s like caging an animal and giving him a tiny bit of freedom. You’re still in a cage.”

Anti-shutdown rallies have cropped up around the country in recent weeks with the help and support of conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, the New York Times reports.

Two musicians played country songs on the steps of the courthouse. A Medford Fire-Rescue fire engine honked several times to show its support for the crowd, which erupted into loud cheers.

One protester yelled at others for wearing face masks. He then slid a rubber Donald Trump mask over his head. His sign read, “I DO NOT CONSENT / TO MASK’S / SOCIAL DISTANCING / CONTRACT TRACING / MY BODY / MY CHOICE”

April Ehrlich | JPR News
A protestor wearing a rubber mask caricature of President Donald Trump marches in front of the Jackson County Courthouse holding a sign that protests against wearing face masks.

Public health officials, including Jackson County Medical Director Jim Shames, are advising everyone to wear cloth or paper face masks when out in public in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Still, few at the rally wore them.

State and national health experts also advise people to stay home when possible. Brown announced that starting on May 15, people can begin holding local gatherings of up to 25 people, but events with large crowds will likely remain off the table until September.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts was among the speakers at Saturday's rally.

“Why can we only go to Walmart and not Kohls?” Roberts asked the crowd. “Why the dollar store and not a mom-and-pop shop? Why couldn’t you have an elective surgery, but I understand an abortion can be done, which is elective?”

The crowd erupted into cheers and boos. Although the state paused elective surgeries for a few weeks to conserve its supply of protective equipment for medical workers, Governor Brown allowed elective surgeries to continue again in late April.

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April Ehrlich | JPR News
An armed man holds up his phone during the Faith and Freedom Rally in Medford.

In the crowd, a man wearing tactical gear and several large guns held his phone up higher to record Roberts' speech.

“It comes down to this,” Roberts said. “Are we a free state, or are we a police state?”

Demonstrators responded with a booming chant: “Free! Free! Free!”

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.