“Read ’em the Riot Act!”

This figure of speech refers to an Act of Parliament from 1714 prohibiting “tumults and riotous assemblies.” The sheriff, or similar officer, was required to read the act aloud, word for word, when commanding the crowd to disperse:

Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!

The Latest Riot Acts

Like the Riot Act of old, an ever-growing collection of executive orders from the governors of nearly all 50 states currently prohibits public assemblies during the COVID 19 pandemic. These “Stay at Home” and “Shelter in Place” orders vary from state to state, and even within the same state they may change from one week to the next.

Unfortunately, news reports, social media posts, and gossip among friends seldom summarize these twenty-first century riot acts accurately. Consequently, many people are confused as to whether they must stay home, whether they may go to church, or whether they ought to be ratting on their neighbor who’s out walking the dog past sunset.

Stay Informed: Read the Latest Riot Act for Yourself

Before your neighbor threatens to report you, or your  sheriff finds you in violation, why not read the latest riot act for yourself so that you’ll understand what’s lawful and what’s not?

The Council of State Governments has compiled a list of web links to executive orders in various states as well as four U.S. territories, sorted both by jurisdiction and by topic.

If you have concerns that an executive order in your state exceeds the governor’s constitutional authority, consult this list of web links to state constitutions to confirm your intuition. Then, contact us for a legal referral.


Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023 He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.

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