I wrote briefly yesterday about the Tampa-area pastor who was arrested for holding a Sunday church service in defiance of an order against large gatherings, and asked for your responses. Since then, that story has exploded into other very important areas. Last night, I was on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News to discuss this story…
…which has taken on new meaning in light of rising infringements on Constitutional rights. Local authorities say they support freedom of religion, but the church service endangered the public health in violation of quarantine. However, the church claims the service was conducted with great care, including social distancing of attendees and other strict health precautions. My friends at the Liberty Counsel are defending the pastor. And a Pennsylvania pastor wants by holding an "outdoor Easter blowout service" a la Woodstock to show solidarity.
Both the defiance of the lockdown orders and the draconian measures some political office holders are using to enforce them have given rise to a serious debate about whether we are in danger of losing our Constitutional rights, not just during the current health emergency, but from now on. Personally, I believe that for the safety of me, my family and my community, it’s best to do whatever is necessary to stop the spread of this disease, and that can include innovative ways to worship, such as streaming services online or even this.
The bigger issue, though, is the swiftness with which our elected leaders, particularly mayors and governors of deep blue areas, have rushed right past “leadership” directly to “dictatorship.” While it might or might not be within their powers to curtail some freedoms during a deadly pandemic, their lack of concern for how that impacts individual rights is a warning sign that either they don’t understand those rights or hold them in contempt. Neither quality is acceptable in someone who holds powerful office.
For instance, it is one thing to order people to stay inside during an emergency. You might even justify arresting someone for defying that order. But in New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio threatened to “permanently” close any church or synagogue that violated it (tellingly, he didn’t threaten mosques, but that’s another issue.) By what possible right does he claim power to take away people’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of assembly “permanently”?
Some of these officials seem to be winging it without even thinking about it. For example, they’ll release all the criminals from jail, because they might catch the virus there. Then they try to deprive citizens of their Second Amendment right to defend themselves from the criminals they released by closing gun stores. The Mayor of Washington, DC, even threatened to arrest and jail people who go outside. So to recap: they’d empty the jails to protect criminals from getting the virus, then put citizens into the virus-ridden jails they just let the criminals out of, just for leaving their homes, because that might give someone the virus. If you can follow that circuitous reasoning, please send me the directions.
This is a time when it’s important for our officials to keep the public informed and alert, to show leadership and lead by example, and to impress on everyone the importance of voluntary compliance with guidelines to save lives. Draconian enforcement should be a last resort, not a first resort, and never should it be allowed to become commonplace after this passes.
Just as the public needs stern, sober reminders of why their cooperation is a matter of life and death, so do some political figures need a remedial lesson in Constitutional rights. Lesson one: the Bill of Rights is not a list of things that the state allows us to do, if we’re good and use them only the way they want. It’s a list of rights granted to us by God that the state cannot take away, except by tyranny.