FFRF commends its home county for taking action against an evangelical-run coffeehouse that advertised itself as a “mask-free zone” in violation of a countywide public health order.
FFRF had emailed a complaint letter on July 20 to Public Health Madison and Dane County, asking it to enforce its order requiring indoor masking in shops and stores to defiant establishments such as Helbachs Coffee in Middleton, Wis. On July 21, health authorities fined Helbachs $263.50 for violating the masking requirement. WKOW-TV quotes an official as saying that since the mask mandate went into effect on July 13, the office has received 390 compliance complaints — with 180 of those against Helbachs.
FFRF noted in its letter that employees of the coffeehouse, run by a couple who started divisive “Jesus Lunches” at Middleton High School, had belittled customers, including small children, who entered while wearing masks and reportedly had refused to space out seating to comply with social distancing regulations. The shop also briefly posted a “mask-free zone” announcement warning that it would not admit anyone wearing a mask.
Individuals have picketed the shop, including FFRF staff. FFRF asked officials to suspend Helbachs’ food and drink license if it refused to comply with the mask order.
“Businesses that refuse to abide by the Public Health Madison and Dane County’s regulations risk the health of everyone in their communities,” stated FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian. Failing to enforce the order puts responsible coffeeshops and comparable businesses at a competitive disadvantage for obeying the law and protecting their customers, he noted. The mask enforcement, FFRF pointed out, had to include businesses whose owners claim that the mask mandate violates their deeply held personal religious beliefs.
Dane County apparently agrees with FFRF. On Aug. 6, it informed Helbachs that it could lose its drink and food licenses if it doesn’t comply with the mask order.