Civil Liberties and the Pandemic

A week ago Saturday, police in Kansas City “intervened” to stop a dangerous gathering of elementary school teachers.

The staff of John Fiske Elementary School decided to organize a parade of cars as a way to boost the morale of their students while they are “distance learning”. All of the teachers and administrators were in their own cars. There was literally no chance whatsoever of any virus being transmitted from car to car. But a spokeswoman for the police later explained, after the elicit gathering was descended upon by law enforcement, that the celebration of learning was not “necessary” or “essential.” Thankfully, students were saved from the threat of cheerful elementary school teachers waving to them from their vehicles.

Unfortunately, these actions were not isolated. There are stories around the country of power-hungry government officials and politicians who decide to arrest or threaten people who seemingly are doing nothing that would threaten public health or violate any ‘social distancing’ guidelines.

President Reagan once quipped that it should worry people is when someone says “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Here are just some recent examples of zealous government functionaries, anxious to show their power during the pandemic:
• This weekend, a Federal judge rebuked Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s threats of legal action against churches and individuals who would attend “drive-in services” this Easter, calling the move overly broad and unconstitutional.

“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” wrote U.S. District Judge Justin Walker in a temporary restraining order issued Saturday.

The Mayor said he was just looking out for public health and asked churches not to hold the services, where people would attend but sit in their cars while listening to a service. On Friday he announced that Louisville Metro Police officers would record the license plate numbers of those who did attend any such church services.

• Pennsylvania state police  pulled over and ticketed a woman who, according to the citation, was ”going for a drive” for no particular reason. You may think that going for a drive when you’ve been locked in your home for three weeks is indeed a rather harmless activity. And you might also be silly enough to think that there is essentially zero risk of contracting or transmitting the virus while you drive along a country road in the rural county of York, Pennsylvania. But none of that matters. The politicians have spoken. You may leave your home only for the reasons they decree.

• The mayor of Port Isabel, Texas, has decided, for whatever reason, that residents may not travel with more than two people in their vehicle. Fortunately, I only have two children or number three would just be out of luck.

• A woman in Minnesota was recently stopped and ticketed. She was ticketed for driving with a canceled license, which seems fair. But she was also ticketed, for violating her state’s stay-at-home order. She said she’d gone to Taco Bell and before that had visited her storage unit. The run for Mexican was fine but going to her storage unit, by herself, was a ‘no-no’ and against her state’s stay at home order so she gets a ticket.
There are many more examples. The point being that we have given up our civil liberties in an effort to stop this terrible pandemic and these examples should remind of us the danger of doing that unless absolutely necessary.
Power corrupts, and even in a crisis we need to be aware of the dangers and need to restore things to normal as quickly as possible.

Government power has inherent risks. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes you give people power and they get a deity complex and want to make sure everyone knows they have power by trying to show it off. A prosecutor in Ohio, reportedly exploded in a fit of rage during a radio interview when asked about a similar incident in his state, said that those who defy his state’s stay-at-home order are committing “felonious assault” and if you’re guilty of that, you can “sit your butt in jail, sit there and kill yourself.”


And this prosecutor was in the United States of America, not Russia or China or some banana republic.

Generally speaking, conservatives tend to be more wary of government intervention for just these reasons: chances for abuse rise when the force of government is behind any mandate. Absolutely there are times when that is necessary. But those times should be limited and of very limited duration. Because we are fortunate to live in this country, sometimes we take our civil liberties for granted. But only by protecting them vigorously and constantly can we keep them. These examples above show just how easy it is to have them abused.

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