Balancing the rights of the individual against the public health and safety needs of the general public has always been a complicated issue in America. The individual rights enumerated in our Constitution are unique, in that they are “inalienable,” which means “unable to be taken away from the possessor.” It doesn’t matter if the majority wills it; said rights are not subject to a popularity poll. Accordingly, Americans are free to speak their minds, worship (or not) as they choose, protect their lives and property with firearms, and own their property without the government or others taking it. These principles have starkly divided the political right and left in America over the last few decades. Many on the left are increasingly comfortable with regulating speech or religion if they deem it hateful, outlawing firearms and confiscating property through regulation, but it is an interesting development that a pandemic could emphasize this divide. It’s surprising, but in retrospect predictable, at least considering the paradigm shift on how our government has dealt with this pandemic.
Historically, the government asserts its power to deal with epidemics, but always by dealing with the sick, who would be quarantined to protect the healthy population, forcibly (and legally) if required. California law even allows the government to destroy private property if it is deemed to be infected and a risk to public health. Now, however, we quarantine the healthy, we close businesses, close churches and close the schools—to the healthy and sick alike. A year-and-a-half ago, all this was supposed to last a couple of weeks to “flatten the curve” to keep our ICUs from being overwhelmed. But it dragged on for over a year. We know that our government has overstepped its legal bounds repeatedly. The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned CA’s restrictions on indoor worship a stunning five times. There have been 83 legal challenges against California COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic started. “Follow the science,” we were told, “this isn’t political,” they affirmed, but have you noticed how the “science” keeps shifting? Originally, the vaccines were supposed to be 95 percent effective to keep us from getting sick or spreading the virus; now we are told it is to keep us from getting too sick. Do masks work to stop the spread? The CDC and WHO have gone back and forth on that: yes, then no, and although the research I’ve read indicates that masks help to reduce transmission, reasonable minds can disagree. Furthermore, there are health effects from prolonged mask use. According to studies published by the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, adverse effects of prolonged mask use include headaches, skin rashes and impaired cognition in the majority of those surveyed. To be clear, I am not an anti-vaxer, nor anti-mask. However, the condescension shown by some against those who make a personal choice not to get vaccinated, or wear a mask, is shocking. Recently, the ubiquitous Dr. Fauci stated: “We’ve got to do mitigation, put aside all of these issues of concern about liberties and personal liberties and realize we have a common enemy and that common enemy is the virus.” Wow. That about sums up the enormous divide.
Sorry, Dr. Fauci, but you aren’t the omnipotent king you act. You’ve been wrong many times, including early in the pandemic saying masks won’t help (were you wrong then, or now?). Ultimately, free people must make free choices about their health, and parental sovereignty mandates they make the decisions for their children. Again, our government can and should quarantine the sick, but quarantines for the healthy, mandating vaccines and masks, and punishing noncompliance by banning people from church, schools and work, is wrong. There really are differing opinions on these questions, and vilifying those with whom we disagree is arrogant. Do you dismiss those with vaccine hesitancy as ignorant? A survey conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found vaccine hesitancy does not decrease among those with a PhD. Since when did personal health choices become the purview of the state?
Parents are demanding to make the decisions on their children’s health. The Orange County Board of Education is litigating the state mandate requiring children to wear masks to school. Government should do everything possible to protect students’ health while providing an education, but don’t supplant the parents. Regular testing is applauded, social distancing is fine, as is strongly suggesting masks, as well. Remote learning should still be offered to children whose parents are uncomfortable sending their kids to school. But if we grab a child or citizen and try to force a needle into their arm, telling them they can’t go to school, church, restaurants or a store unless they do, then we have a sickness in America more dangerous than COVID-19.