Opinion

Cracking Down on the Faithful Is No Way to Fight a Pandemic

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Posted: Apr 11, 2020 12:01 AM
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Cracking Down on the Faithful Is No Way to Fight a Pandemic

Source: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a message for the religiously faithful residents of New York City:

“If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church, and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.” 

Law enforcement agents rounding up people outside their churches is a painful image, out of place in America. Is it time to ask if we have gone too far in our attempts to contain the Coronavirus?

The reality is beginning to set in: Millions of Christians across the country will be forbidden under various state and local laws to attend church on Easter. Passover in these strange times will be unrecognizable. Have we gone too far? It’s a fair question.

Numbers dominate the news these days. We hear the projected number of people who will likely be infected with the Coronavirus. We’ve heard, of late, significant revisions downward of those numbers. That’s a good thing. We also hear the numbers of people who have lost their jobs, who are now on unemployment because governments across the country have taken swift action with severe consequences. All of those numbers must be processed, rationally, and with balance. 

Lives are being upended on a daily basis. We don’t have the numbers for how many lives have felt the crushing effects of government actions. Churches have been forcibly (and under the threat of arrest now) closed. There are estimates that as many as 40 million children are not in school. And the question persists: Have we gone too far?

Many Americans, in certain parts of the country, have been asked to report on their neighbors for violating the shelter-in-place orders. One draconian example comes from America’s heartland, in Dane county in Wisconsin, where the county officials have created a webform to collect information. The authorities have asked individual residents to use that form to report to the government if convenings of more than ten people are taking place. When a government’s invasion into the private sphere becomes so expansive that the law authorities must enlist the help of everyday citizens, we have probably gone too far.

Given the magnitude of the impact of these governments’ actions, isn’t it right and proper that we have a national conversation about the state of affairs? Our system of government and self-governance is a unique experiment in human history. It allows for – in fact, it demands – reflective dialogue. After all, our local governments and the federal government derive their power from the consent of the governed – that is, from us.

Our need for a government that advances public health and safety must be balanced with our individual desire for freedom. The social contract is, itself, a reflection of the balance between the need for security and the desire for freedom. The American political experience for these past 250 years has, more nearly perfectly than any other government structure in history, found that balance. 

We need to have this discussion as Americans. Our system of government, where the people govern, requires it.

At Tea Party Patriots, the organization I founded ten years ago to keep the government in check, we are having that conversation. It is one I encourage all Americans, regardless of party affiliation or their personal views of President Trump, to join. 

Has the government gone too far? It’s a very American question, rooted in our history as a nation. The Declaration of Independence can be viewed as the collection of Jefferson’s musings about how much the English crown had crossed a line, and had gone too far.

Our nation was born from the examination of government’s proper scope. Nothing could be more necessary, or, frankly, more American, than a broad examination of whether or not our local and state governments have gone too far.

As local governments crack down on religious worshippers, as Americans are banned from gathering together, as we are forbidden to form associations or meet in groups or hold town hall meetings, as we are asked to become informants for the government and turn in our neighbors, has government gone too far?

Let’s have that debate. 

Jenny Beth Martin is honorary chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action.