Defiance of public health orders is not limited to Livingston Parish, but that jurisdiction has made headlines during the months that orders have restricted gatherings in Louisiana.
The latest is a barbecue restaurant violating coronavirus-related restrictions.
A hearing is planned in state district court on Tuesday, with officials seeking a contempt of court verdict against the owners of Firehouse BBQ in Watson.
State inspectors recently found that Firehouse BBQ was not complying with an order from Gov. John Bel Edwards limiting crowd sizes and requiring workers to wear masks. The Louisiana Department of Health voided the restaurant's food permit and sought an order to shutter the restaurant, which Judge Brenda Bedsole Ricks approved.
The restaurant's owners ignored the orders, however. The health department asked the judge to hold the owners in contempt. The restaurant in return asked the court to order the state to back off.
With the hearing set for Tuesday, another Livingston judge said the state should not take further action until the issues have been aired in court.
Depending on who you believe, Firehouse BBQ is a bastion against what the owners declared an “illegal mask mandate.” That may be difficult to prove in any court.
Another issue, though, is that the restaurant said some of its employees had adverse medical reactions to covering their faces, as Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Trump White House task force on the coronavirus threat have continually pushed during the crisis.
That point can be established one way or another in court and should be. If it’s not true, the court could establish that it’s not a loophole that other businesses can take advantage of.
Thus, the litigation ensuing in the suburban Baton Rouge eatery could be a useful discussion as businesses as well as residents try to deal with the coronavirus threat.
The large question of an “illegal mask mandate” seems of little merit, although it has attracted a bit of celebrity support: The Rev. Tony Spell, who defied restrictions on his church’s services in nearby Central, was one of the notable customers dining at Firehouse BBQ recently.
Courts across the nation have upheld emergency actions to protect public health during this disaster that is basically without precedent in the United States since the 1918 Spanish flu.
The actions hurt, and we suspect no one is more aware of that than Edwards. The invaluable survey of data in the metropolitan area by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber shows the impact on businesses and economic activity in the region.
But the best way out of today’s crisis is for mask mandates, and other measures, to be taken up by people and businesses with a dedication to stopping the spread of coronavirus.
If the court’s action this week can persuade business owners of the seriousness of defiance, it will advance that goal.