South Weber event to feature controversial school board member, mask-mandate foe
SOUTH WEBER — A controversial member of the Utah Board of Education and an outspoken foe of mask and vaccine mandates will speak at an outdoor festival in South Weber on Saturday.
Plans for the event, to be held at the city-owned Canyon Meadows Park in South Weber, have generated a measure of heated debate on social media, both for and against. But a member of the South Weber City Council, Hayley Alberts, says regardless, the city has no authority to step in and say the Freedom Festival, as it’s dubbed, can’t happen.
“To cancel an event just because someone doesn’t like what’s being said isn’t within my realm of duties,” Alberts said. Nor, she went on, would such a move be in line with First Amendment free speech protections. The city isn’t organizing or sponsoring the event.
The featured guests are Eric Moutsos of Utah Business Revival, a mask mandate foe who has spoken out fiercely against rules and restrictions implemented to safeguard against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and Natalie Cline, a state school board member. Cline most recently drew fire in August for a Facebook post viewed by some as an affront to LGBTQ youth, also drawing a reprimand from her fellow school board members.
Moutsos, contacted Thursday, said his message at the event will be about the import of preserving personal freedoms in the context of mask mandates in some areas meant to guard against the COVID-19 virus and vaccine mandates.
He had proposed a public concert in Kaysville in May 2020 as concern about the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, backed by Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt, generating a strong backlash. The plans in the city were ultimately scrapped. Moutsos, though, had argued that restrictions in effect at the time on public gatherings amounted to a threat to the right of assembly and were also unnecessarily harmful to the economy.
“Government in general was never in charge of our health. They should be there to protect our rights, our God-given rights,” Moutsos said.
It’s not the government’s role, he went on, to oblige the public to wear masks or vaccinate, notwithstanding the view of the majority of health care professionals that masks and vaccination are key in combatting COVID-19. “I’m not anti-anything. I’m just pro-freedom,” Moutsos said.
He also pointed to what he said was the “hypocrisy” of requiring vaccination at universities but allowing college football games to go on at packed stadiums without mask rules.
Cline didn’t immediately respond to a query seeking comment.
Saturday’s event goes from 6-10 p.m. and it will also feature music, food trucks and more. “I invite anyone who wants to listen, even if they disagree,” Moutsos said.
In a Facebook post, Alberts, the South Weber City Council member, said she had received feedback both for and against the event. “The council is not at the discretion to allow or disallow an event based on whether we agree with it or not. To do so is quite dangerous grounds, wouldn’t you agree?” she wrote.
Moutsos said someone else organized the event, but he didn’t provide their identity. Neither Mayor Jo Sjoblom nor the South Weber city manager immediately responded to calls Thursday seeking comment and information on the event.
Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks said he hasn’t received word of any sort of counter demonstration. Sheriff’s deputies will be on hand, though, as they are at other events that draw crowds. The sheriff’s office provides law enforcement protection in South Weber.