In December, the outbreak in the City of Wuhan, located in China’s Hubei province, was officially detected. On Jan. 31, Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic. On March 13, President Trump Donald declared a national emergency.
In the span of that following week, gatherings of 250 or more were discouraged and then banned by numerous states. That number immediately dropped to 50, and now it has dropped to 10. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, banned all gatherings for the largest state in the Union. It was unprecedented. No matter. Eleven other states quickly followed suit. More are to follow, as 17 other states have banned gatherings of 10 or more.
Unless Americans merely perceive this moment in our history as “light and transient,” then there should be no need to clamor. Americans have grown accustomed to the subtle threats to our freedoms since John Adams and the Fifth Congress; and as long as citizens are still free to determine the course of the country every two, four, or six years, then these “evils are sufferable.”
This is unless, of course, we perceive those threats to be a “long train of abuses and usurpations.” The federal government has rarely felt a restriction on its massive powers, like the constant wars in far off places, spying on citizens, dislodging citizens without habeas corpus, or creating unelected government agencies armed with the three branches of power.
State governments now have become fearless in exercising their might by forcing people into their homes under the threat of penalty of law. It is for this reason the Founding Fathers created our extended republic so instead of overthrowing a king, voters would be able to “throw off such government” every two, four, or six years. Citizens need not look solely at the federal government, but at their local and state governments as well.
There are 50 States and 50 Constitutions, which all fall under the supreme law of the land: the Constitution of the United States of America. Our national Constitution was ordained and established to provide six services to the People. One of those is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
With state governments seamlessly conducting the aforementioned gathering bans; the shutting down of non-essential businesses in 18 states, along with three other states shutting down non-essential retail; the mandatory quarantines of 13 states; and the forced closure of bars and restaurants, except for take-out and delivery, in nearly every state in the Union, it may prove difficult for the blessings of liberty to reach our posterity.
In a state of national emergency and pandemic, however, there are no solutions—there are only trade-offs. The trade-off for a dramatically decreased risk of contracting the coronavirus and having it spread further is the surrender of several rights listed in the Constitution.
The right that has been most obviously violated is “the right to peacefully assemble.” Of course that ends with “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Some may argue that people are not conducting a redress of grievances against the government; therefore, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. But a redress of grievances is not truly possible without the threat of assembly. Petitions on Change.org are easy ways to obtain signatures, but they don’t assume the power of a physical redress.
This violation of the right to assembly causes a direct violation of the free exercise of religion. Churches have been forced to close, and groups have been dispelled throughout the nation due to their size. Congregating is the most common form of Americans’ ability to exercise their religion; it’s the tradition of religious practitioners going back millennia. In fact, as a majority of religious people in the United States practice Christianity, Hebrews 10:25 states to not forsake assembling together.
Some government officials have taken the opportunity to target religious groups. In Indiana, Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan issued a recommendation against gatherings of more than 10, but prohibited churches from gathering together, even in non-church venues. The state’s attorney general, Curtis Hill, contested McMahan’s order as “unconstitutional religious discrimination.” The order was rescinded.
In Houston, bars and restaurants are under threat of a $1,000 fine or 180 days in jail for not maintaining social distancing in their place of business. This penalty is on par with a first-time drug offense. Houston’s Harris County, one of the nation’s largest counties, has even gone so far as to create a hotline for people to report businesses not in compliance.
In this economic crisis, business owners have more to worry about than the precise spacing between customers, which has created a possible violation of the Fourth Amendment of being secure in their person.
Comparable to the case in Indiana, businesses are not treated equally, as places such as WalMart, Target, and grocery chains are free of these threats. Considering the dire economic situation the country is in, this could qualify as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, as a $1,000 fine in many cases would be excessive. These two examples definitely do not exemplify equal protection, a violation of the 14th Amendment.
The nation, in this time of crisis, does feel on fire. Alarmingly, our founding documents are being used to put out the flames. When this crisis passes, and it will as all do, the search will inevitably begin for what remains among the ashes.