What is right for all? Is it absolute freedom? As we hope to be finally seeing light at the end of the long Pandemic tunnel, we must still be reminded of the truth we started with. This commentary appeared last year on SERENDIPITY (teepee12.com).
Stay at Home, Save Lives, by Rich Paschall
While we accept the precept of “freedom of speech,” we also understand that it does not apply to everything in all situations. As you probably have heard often, we are not allowed to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater when there is none. This could cause a stampede for the exits and put some people at risk of being hurt or killed in the panic.
Similarly, you can not shout out in a crowd that you see a gun when there is none. Due to the types of mass shootings, we have seen in recent years, we know that there could be a panic that could cause harm.
You are also forbidden to engage in the type of speech that would incite a riot. Hate speech in gatherings could, in turn, result in attacks either at a rally, let say, or following in the days to come. There may be a politician or two who have gotten away with this, but that’s another matter.
There are laws against slander and libel as the defamation they bring may cause harm to groups or individuals. While we see misinformation spread often on social media, doing so as a respected news source could bring danger to others. A well-known News network is being sued by a Washington State group for issuing false news in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Yes, the Constitution promised you freedom of speech, but that does not mean you can say whatever you like. Where there are dangerous consequences to what you say, you can be held liable for your remarks. Don’t you wish that also applied to Orange politicians, but I digress?
There is also “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” but it doesn’t mean you can gather a large group wherever you want. Try to form a parade down State Street (that great street) without a permit and see how far you get. You can not take over a baseball diamond in a public park if another group holds a permit. You can not have the pavilion at the local forest preserve if another group holds a permit. In fact, we have many regulations regarding the assembly of large crowds. It is not uncommon to post limits of assembly, many by fire codes that are enforced by the local government.
It’s a free country, or is it?
You have probably heard of people who do not want to shelter at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. They insist it is a free country and they can do what they like. The government is not going to tell them what to do. They have their constitutional rights. But do they have such rights?
The Constitutionality of the restrictions we have described above has been tested in courts and upheld. Local and national governments not only have the right to impose such restrictions on the public, but they also have a duty to do so.
Scientific evidence has told us that the only way to “flatten the curve,” in other words lessen the spread of the virus, is to keep a “social distance.” This has caused many at the state and local levels to impose restrictions. Some do not want to abide.
You can find plenty of examples of people who did not want to social distance and observe the restrictions, who have died of the virus. They not only put themselves at risk, but they also put others at risk as well. They do not have that right.
Many of the authors of The Constitution were certainly well aware of the philosophical writings of John Locke (The Second Treatise of Government), Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Du Contrat social). These works would have greatly influenced their thinking about forming a new national government. They knew that members of society must agree to give up certain rights for the good of society as a whole. It is a “contract” we have as a member of society, to act in a way that benefits all. It is the greatest good for the greatest number.
“That a man be willing, when others are so too (as farre-forth, as for Peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.” – Thomas Hobbes
In other words, we must do what is right for all. Those who think they can assemble as they please, including at religious services, are misinformed and violating the laws of nature, science, and the social contract. No one has the right to go out and spread the virus. They are not immune. They are not free to do as they like. Governors (Republicans all) who refuse to issue stay-at-home orders, or allow large exemptions (think Easter services), are not acting in the interest of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Let’s put it in a way that may drive the point home. There is a post going around social media that may illustrate the problem of some states practicing social distancing, and others ignoring the advice. We must “ lay down this right to all things; and be contented” because it is the only reasonable course of action.
Sources: “Leviathan,” Thomas Hobbes, sparknotes.com
“Washington State Group Is 1st to Sue Fox News for Calling Coronavirus a ‘Hoax’,” by ken Stone, timesofsandiego.com April 2, 2020.
“The Social Contract,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, coursehero.com
“Social Contract,” en.wikipedia.org