By Adam D. Skrzecz, Legal Columnist
This article was originally featured in our November 2020 magazine, (p.11) released 30 November 2020, which you can view here.
It’s that time of year again, that time when crowds rush to big-box retailers for the best deals on the season’s hottest gifts and grocery stores are packed until the late hours of the night with people scrambling for the one ingredient they can’t find to make a batch of casserole large enough for the few dozen people they will need to feed the next day. For many, this season is a joyous time to gather and celebrate life’s abundance with the ones they love, and to be grateful for everything life has to offer.
Obviously, this one will be different. Much different. The current COVID-19 crisis has now lasted longer than anyone had hoped, and may very well seriously affect the family festivities of those who are currently sick
or quarantining – it has certainly altered the lives of those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic. So for many, family get-togethers may look a little more distant and cautious this year, and many for good reason. If you’re family has members with underlying health conditions like mine, it may be prudent to be a little more careful when you instinctively run for the embrace of that relative you haven’t seen since last year.
But here’s the thing. If you want to take precautions, or if you want to limit the size of your gathering, that’s fine. It is your prerogative to do what you think is best for your family situation. You make the choice, your Governors and Mayors don’t.
You see, COVID safety precautions don’t become law just because they’re popular. Your family may have very legitimate reasons to consider COVID when making their holiday plans, but that doesn’t give state and municipal leaders license to mandate it. When government leaders begin to toss the Constitution out the window for the sake of a current crisis, the political pandemic will have done much more damage than the viral one.
As it stands, several US States have tightened their COVID restrictions, decreasing “allowable” gathering sizes and tightening mask mandates. Several large US cities have also followed suit, even making mask requirements expressly enforceable with the slap of a misdemeanor on offending individuals or businesses.
Even more troubling is the apparent trend for some municipal leaders to encourage citizens to report their neighbors to the police for violating these new orders. Yes, you read that correctly. The mayors of several major metropolitan areas are asking their loyal followers to call the police and report gatherings of families larger than a requisite size (don’t worry though, many of these cities are the same ones pursuing proposals to defund their police departments. Enjoy a dollop of irony on that slice of pumpkin pie.). Yes, that guy to whom you lent your lawnmower last summer is now the reason the police are going to show up to cite you for celebrating Thanksgiving.
The danger in all this is twofold. First, whether we realize it yet, we are witnessing the begin- ning of a very dangerous slope, the bottom of which is the complete degradation of our individual liberties every time the government recognizes an “emergency.” As a corollary to that point, people now seem more willing than ever to give up these hallmark liberties for the sake of a pat on the back from their mayor. As Benjamin Franklin so astutely put it, “those who would give up liberty for the sake of temporary security deserve neither.” It seems that, just as troubling as it is for local governments to stamp out our liberty interest, we have lost the ability and the educational awareness to reaffirm and defend our rights against domestic governments who seek to enjoin them. President Reagan famously said that “freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.” Many people presume that this quote was meant to apply strictly to the defense of American freedom from foreign threats. But if foreign threats were the only ones, the oaths of office for our armed forces wouldn’t have included the phrase “both foreign and domestic” when referring to potential enemies of the American way of life.
We have already seen many religious and business organizations take up that brave fight by pooling resources to sue local leaders in defense of their rights. We can only hope that lawsuits don’t become prerequisites to opening a business, or jogging in the park, or worshipping according to the dictates of our conscience. But to avoid that twisted reality, we must all recognize what is at stake, and that we must stop the snowball before it becomes to large and tramples us all.
So, if you haven’t taken the time to step back and take a long, hard look at the state of the thing around you, you should. Brush up on your history. None of this is new, and it has always ended badly. I personally recommend reviewing the hysteria that led to McCarthyism, or the hot-blooded rush that led to the internment of innocent Japanese Americans of all ages and backgrounds during the Second World War; you’ll find it quite an informative window into the minds of those who think you are a threat to public safety for inviting your cousins to dinner.
This Thanksgiving, celebrate your family, your friends, and all the things for which you are thankful. I only hope that our Constitution makes it on your list this year.
Adam D. Skrzecz is a graduate UNC Law student from Greensboro, NC.