A Virginia restaurant owner who has refused to comply with Gov. Ralph Northam’s coronavirus restrictions won a legal victory this week after a judge refused to grant the state’s request for an injunction to immediately close the business.
The judge said the state failed to show that the injunction was in the public interest or that the public would be harmed without it. This means Matt Strickland, who owns Gourmeltz restaurant in Fredericksburg, can keep his business open for now.
Strickland has refused to enforce Northam’s mandates on mask-wearing and social distancing, arguing they are unconstitutional. He has also refused to stop serving food and alcohol despite the state’s decision to suspend his licenses.
“I’m not afraid of the state, I’m not afraid of the federal government,” Strickland told WUSA. “I spent most of my adult life fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have no problem coming home and fighting here in Virginia.”
Still, he added, the fight to prevent tyranny from happening was easier than trying to restore one’s civil liberties after the fact.
“If you do what the government says just because they say so, they’ll keep taking and taking, and the things you give them you’ll never get back,” Strickland said.
Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, said the judge’s decision was disappointing.
She insisted that it was “crucial” that everyone, Strickland included, “play their part and adhere to the COVID guidelines for Virginia to return to normal as quickly and safely as possible.”
But Strickland said he was unmoved by the bureaucratic niceties.
“The state, the government, the president … they will never scare me into backing down,” he said.
“I will never kneel down and kiss that ring,” he continued. “I will fight as long as I’ve got to fight. I will fight as hard as I have to fight.”
Strickland’s lawyer, former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said Northam’s restrictions are unreasonable since Strickland has been able to operate his business “without a single incident of COVID-19, including any potential reports through contact tracing, nearby outbreaks, or any customers or employees testing positive, since the outbreak began.”
A fundraiser to support Strickland and his restaurant had raised nearly $13,000 of its $50,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon.