Since May, Bethel brewpub owner Rick Savage has had a lot to say about what the government can do to regulate businesses during a pandemic.

So far, all of it has been wrong.

Savage, the co-owner of Sunday River Brewing Co., claimed in a lawsuit that Gov. Mills lacks the constitutional authority to limit business activity during a state of emergency. But a federal judge has ruled that she does.

Savage said the fines and suspension of his liquor license for refusing to comply with public safety standards constitute harassment by the state. But a judge has found that they do not.

Savage said that the state can’t shut down his business, Sunday River Brewing Co., for refusing to comply with pandemic safety protocols. But the business is closed, and will be for a while.

On Friday, Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon issued a ruling that suspends Savage’s liquor license until Dec. 28, shutting down his brewpub for more than a month. And the judge fined Savage’s business $34,000 for repeatedly defying the state’s safety protocols. The judge made clear that this was Savage’s last chance: More violations could result in a permanent loss of his liquor license.

If Savage feels that he has been singled out, he has only himself to blame. He publicly defied Mills on national television, even reading out her personal cellphone number on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”  But while that might have drawn attention to him, it can’t be blamed for the fact that inspectors found safety violations every time they visited his brewpub. If Savage and his employees had followed the rules while his case was pending in court, he would be in business right now.

It may not have been his intention, but Savage could be doing a great service to other restaurant operators and the public at large. Savage is far from the only person who spouts the opinion that constitutional rights are violated when the state takes measures to control a public health emergency. Others share Savage’s belief that the state does not have the authority to order food workers to cover their faces while an airborne virus is sickening and killing people every day.

Savage’s headlong rush into a legal brick wall should tell the others who hold his views that they have no legal ground to stand on. If they defy the rules, they should not expect to be bailed out by the courts, as Savage has been convinced he would be.

He is right about one thing: Restaurants are tough businesses in the best of times, and many will not be able to survive on a fraction of their regular revenue. Restaurant owners and employees are among the economically hardest hit in the pandemic-driven recession. We are approaching nine months since the first case was reported in Maine, and we are likely at least six months away from the wide distribution of a vaccine. Many businesses will not survive without help.

But Savage is wrong when he says the answer is to allow restaurants and bars to open up for people who are willing to risk getting sick. Since people can spread the virus without knowing that they have it, letting them gather in public makes no sense.

The fastest way to return to normal activities is for everyone to take the steps needed to keep the case numbers as low as possible: Avoid indoor gatherings, maintain a 6-foot distance whenever possible and always wear a mask.

And if you’re not sure what to do, don’t listen to Rick Savage.


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