Wearing a Mask Violates my Constitutional Rights: Think Again
Practically everyone has an opinion on whether or not we should be required to wear masks in light of COVID-19 and the Coronavirus Pandemic. Many people are quite vocal about how wearing a mask violates their constitutional rights and/or civil liberties.
Quite a few people, especially in South Florida, believe wearing a mask doesn't actually stop the spread of the virus. Others believe wearing a mask inhibits their ability to speak or even breathe. Whatever the reasoning is, masks are at the forefront of current political conversations.
It’s a very heated topic - as you can see by this Florida man in a Fort Myers Costco aggressively yelling at an elderly woman who asked him why he wasn’t wearing a mask in the store. Costco requires everyone who is inside the store to be masked at all times.
The real question is, can the government actually require us to wear masks?
If your answer is currently no, like the people in the following video, well, here's why you're wrong.
Palm Beach County voted to mandate that masks be worn in all public spaces at the end of June.
First, it's important to talk a little bit about the arguments against wearing a mask, and why they could possibly be seen as valid in some people's eyes.
Does wearing a mask violate your first amendment rights?
Let's break down the first amendment into its core components. The first amendment grants you the right to:
- The freedom of speech
- The freedom to practice religion
- The right to assembly
- The right to air out your grievances against the government
Some people are currently arguing that all of these rights are being trampled on by current mask-mandate laws, which are aimed to curb the spread of coronavirus in South Florida. In their mind, you are not able to speak in the same capacity when wearing a mask. You are not able to practice religion as the mask inhibits you from breathing God’s free air. The right to assembly is being violated due to the fact that we have social distance, and if we are not able to speak in assemblies, we cannot criticize the government.
Firstly, a mask doesn't impede your ability to practice free speech.
Time and place restrictions are placed on free speech in order to protect the general well being of the people.
Have you ever heard the saying “you can't yell fire in a crowded room unless there actually is a fire”?
Something similar actually applies in this case. If the ability to speak impedes the ability to have a healthy and safe society, then the ability to speak in those specific situations may be restricted or modified until the safety of the public is insured. Most if not all constitutional lawyers agree with this notion, so it’s something you should consider if you’re on the fence about whether or not wearing masks is constitutional.
Second, the requirement to wear a mask does not impede your ability to practice religion.
As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Supreme Court in the 1983 case of Employment Division v. Smith, laws that do not intend to single out religion but instead apply widely must be “rationally related” to a “legitimate” governmental interest to be constitutional. The requirement to wear a mask falls into this category of rationally related and legitimate laws as protected by that supreme court decision.
Third, the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of government criticism both fall under the same category as freedom of speech.
Given that we are still enduring a global pandemic that is just hardly starting to see confirmed COVID-19 cases go down in South Florida, it’s not the time to assemble and put other people at risk.
But, let's look at a situation where the freedom of assembly wasn't trampled during our pandemic, and if it was, it was dealt with. In June, there was a significant number of protests following the murder of George Floyd.
The people took to the streets, including in the state of Florida, and they were met with open arms by law enforcement, which allowed them to not only protest, but to assemble in a safe and productive manner. Check out the following article which highlights some of these specific situations.
Florida officers take a knee : “Police take a knee in solidarity, prayer with protesters in South Florida”
Finally, all rights are kept in check by what is described as “police power”.
Police power is an ability that the government uses to protect the welfare of the people in times of need.
Now the question to some is: is police power being abused? Are we actually in a time of great need?
Simply put: Yes. We are still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic - this is the perfect time for our government to be exercising police power.
If all of that jargon didn't convince you, in a 1995 court case it was decided that: “There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members.”
If there is even case law to back it up, you know it's a sound argument.
This article does not serve to go against our constitutional rights, it actually does the complete opposite. It keeps our rights in check in order to preserve the ability to call into question actual infringements.
If we begin to wave around a sense of checks and balances on government authority that are unprecedented, we undermine a system that is put in place to protect our sovereignty. If you feel as if your constitutional rights are actually being violated, however, the best thing you can do is contact an experienced constitutional lawyer in South Florida (or wherever you call home). They will be able to explain the situation to you in terms you fully understand and identify how it is best to approach your situation, even bringing the case in front of a judge if deemed necessary. They will make sure your voice gets heard and try to aid you in enacting change if change is necessary.
Some of y’all won’t appreciate this, but here’s the long and short of it: wearing a mask does not violate your constitutional rights. You CAN be mandated to wear a mask. It is not unconstitutional to put mask mandates in place - whether in South Florida or anywhere in America.
Your first amendment, and all other constitutional amendments, are not violated by wearing a mask that helps protect the welfare of people.
Think of all the people’s lives you help save by wearing a mask and practicing the common decency of trying to help the general public. Afterall, isn't it our responsibility to “love thy neighbor” and take care of one another?
While being required to WEAR a mask doesn’t violate your constitutional rights -- being FORBIDDEN to wear a mask by an employer just might violate your constitutional rights .
A Florida Man, in this case Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods has instructed employees of his office not to wear masks when they are on duty, according to CBS and many other news outlets.
In an email to employees he said: "This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion.”
"So, as for us, my order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn," Woods wrote in his email. "If at any time you are confronted by any individual complaining, berating you or just being a difficult individual, you will politely and professionally tell them 'I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff' and then walk away from them," Woods wrote. "From that point on it will be my burden and responsibility to take care of the person and answer their problem, complaint or their question."
The email also details guidance for visitors who enter the sheriff's department: Anyone who enters wearing a mask will be asked to remove it.
The question is - can you, especially as an employer, forbid someone from practicing best practices to ensure their own safety and health? And for visitors to your office?
We don’t think so. Do you?