Freedom rally: Citizens gather outside Smith Alley in Sheridan

Protestors, from left, Brad Walden, Kent Sherwood and Camdyn Cook smile and wave to passersby on Main Street in Sheridan during the freedom rally at Smith Alley Brewing Company on Friday, May 16, 2020. Photo by Matthew Gaston, The Sheridan Press.

SHERIDAN — A group of about 75 gathered outside Smith Alley Brewing Company Friday — some to show solidarity for the business itself, others to advocate for personal liberties.

Sheridan resident David Harbour said he attended the gathering to show his support for “personal accountability and personal freedom” and resist government overreach.

Harbour said the number of people in attendance — more than the public health order limiting gatherings to 25 people or fewer — did not make him uncomfortable. He advocated for allowing individuals to choose what level of risk with which they are comfortable.

“It’s sad that 7,500 people die every day in the U.S. and it sucks to have a virus, but ultimately, we’re all going to die at some point and we should do things that keep our bodies healthy like exercise and eat right, and not live in fear of a respiratory virus that your body can fight if you just take care of it,” he said.

A free exchange of goods and services with open small businesses lifts people out of poverty to support overall health, he added. Harbour doesn’t believe wearing a mask keeps people safe, other than wearing a mask as a display of care for others.

“If you do not wish to come to the restaurant, don’t come,” Harbour said.

Crazy Woman Trading Company owner Linda Fauth stood just down the street watching the gathering from outside her business, which is equipped with a paper sign requesting visitors wear masks and a sanitation stand at the door.

Donned in a blue cloth mask, Fauth was disappointed to see so many Sheridanites failing to comply with health regulations.

“Because I’m immune compromised, if they’re not wearing masks and complying with health regulations — voluntarily complying with them — I won’t be eating there,” Fauth said. “Nor will I be sending anybody that comes into my store.”

Fauth sends visitors to restaurants like the Cowboy Cafe just next door. From her perspective, wearing a mask is a simple task that shows respect and interest in protecting at-risk people.

Fauth said public health recommendations have not hampered her ability to do business in recent weeks. If a customer comes in without a mask, she offers a paper mask for them to wear. No one has walked out the door as a result of her request, she said.

As far as hampering personal freedom, Fauth said she doesn’t feel restricted. Her goal: follow health recommendations and help shut the virus down more quickly, so business owners can get back to work doing what they love.

“I’m respecting other people by protecting them and looking out for myself as well,” she said.

Sheridan Mayor Roger Miller said he made an appearance at the gathering to obtain feedback from Main Street businesses regarding reopening.  With a month since the last confirmed COVID-19 case, Miller said he supports Sheridan’s businesses and a person’s right to protest individual rights.

Miller believes businesses need to stay afloat to support economic health. However, with travel and quarantine restrictions lifted, Sheridan is vulnerable to the possibility of new cases.

Miller said he asked the crisis management team to work on improving messaging about the confluence of public health and personal freedoms. Business compliance or protest is a Constitutional question, he said.

The Sheridan Police Department acted appropriately by enforcing mandates and warning Smith Alley about possible repercussions per state statute, he said. The business can choose whether to accept those consequences or resist.

Miller said he has pushed the incident management team to be proactive in requesting municipal variances, rather than awaiting direction from Gov. Mark Gordon.

“Instead of waiting for the next order to come to us, how about we work on different functions and different messaging and different waivers and send those back up the chain and see if the governor will agree for our community,” Miller said. “Based off our statistics, can we do these things in our community whereas other communities have more active cases going on and so they’re more restricted.”

He strongly resisted the idea of another shutdown if one more COVID case appears now that restrictions have relaxed. Only if an outbreak of several hundred cases surfaces, for example, should officials begin to consider shutdown — and be more specific about who needs to quarantine or what businesses should close.

Miller said society needs to get back to only quarantining the sick, infirm and at-risk. Even then, people have the right to make personal choices regarding their health, he said.

While he recognized the large number of people gathering did not maintain a 6-foot distance between each other, Miller said the group clearly showed support for businesses to serve the community as they wish.

“I am down here to support businesses and their rights to do their business and grow our economy…but on the same note, we do need to try to comply with the laws, the rules, the orders that are out there and our community members need to have a clear message from all of us,” Miller said.

Mediating opinions, economic health and personal freedoms is a complex question for public officials, he said, one that mandates attempt to do but haven’t yet answered satisfactorily. As long as the gathering remained peaceful, Miller said showing solidarity was positive.