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Kansas restaurant refuses to follow mask mandate: 'It's supposed to be a free country'

A restaurant in Mission, Kan., is refusing to follow the state's mask mandate, saying, "It's supposed to be a free country."

Don Chilito's Mexican restaurant is one of 18 establishments in Johnson County that have received noncompliance complaints regarding pandemic safety measures and is the only business that has stood firmly against mask mandates, NBC affiliate KSHB reported.

District Attorney Steve Howe said the other 17 businesses complied with the mask mandate, but Don Chilito's owner Barry Cowden said he thinks the mandate is an encroachment on civil liberties.

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"It's supposed to be a free country, and we can make our own decisions with what we do in our lives and in our businesses," Cowden said.

Cowden said that he denies any claims from scientists or researchers who have pointed toward evidence that wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19.

"I don't believe it," he said. "I don't think that there is any science that proves that."

Rather than making his employees wear masks, Cowden says he takes extended measures to increase sanitization, as well as distancing tables and chairs to reduce crowds and tight-spaced gatherings.

An investigator from the district attorney's (DA) office went to the restaurant in June after receiving several complaints.

"He presented me with a five-page order from Gov. [Laura] Kelly [D], and I gave him my response, which is exactly what I'm giving you ... I feel it's an encroachment and a violation of my civil liberties and rights," Cowden said.

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Cowden asked what consequences he would receive for violating the order and he was told there were none at this time.

The restaurant owner has not heard back from the DA's office since regarding potential consequences.

Howe said it is unclear what enforcement would look like for the mandate as there is no legal precedent to guide his next move.

Still, he said there could be more information about enforcement later on Thursday following a meeting with the Board of County Commissioners.

"Then we'll have a better idea of whether that's fines or can the county health director also have within their authority to close the business, but I don't think that's really the strategy people want to use," Howe said.