The preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins "We the People" not "we the experts." The First Amendment to the Constitution enumerates the most important of our unalienable rights, rights you are born with that no government has the right to deny you without due process. That amendment begins with the statement:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
A simple but eloquent statement engraved in granite so hard no government or agency has the right to restrict except under the most egregious conditions, such as invasion by a foreign power with citizens under martial law. Otherwise, the power of government is limited and may not unduly burden people's constitutional rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that a state has the right to protect itself from an epidemic using "reasonable regulations" but that power is not absolute or indefinite. States are required to be neutral in their application of regulations, especially toward religious expression and use the least burdensome methods for a limited time when restricting a constitutionally protected right such as regulations that "prohibit the free exercise thereof" of religion.
Shutting down places of worship carte blanche indefinitely or unevenly is unconstitutional and places government entities that engage in such behavior, along with officers enforcing such restrictions in legal jeopardy, both civil and criminal.
Since the coronavirus epidemic ensued, Americans have been effectively placed under house arrest, ostensibly to allow medical facilities to ramp up their capability to handle mass casualties stemming from the virus. We needed to "flatten the curve." That we have done, but the house arrest continues, unabated or even more restrictive in states or localities governed by would-be tyrants. Field hospitals built to hold thousands that cost millions of dollars have gone unused, including two military hospital ships capable of treating 1,000 patients each, treating but 181 patients combined, half as many as treated by Samaritan's Purse Christian charity in New York's Central Park over a two month period. The flawed Imperial Medical College Model's epidemic catastrophe didn't occur except in isolated hot spots like the New York and New Jersey metropolitan areas with half the deaths atributable directly to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's incompetence. On March 25, Cuomo ordered nursing homes to admit or re-admit COVID-19 positive patients over their objections. The probelm with models is that they're only as good as inputted information with "worst-case scenarios" hyped by the media—a bad proscription for making public policy. Some in the Trump administration are concerned that the CDC's COVID-19 death rates are inflated by as much as 25 percent.
Some elected officials can't handle authority and have no respect for the constitutional rights of citizens, evidenced by the New Jersey governor's comment that he hadn't given any consideration to the Constitution when imposing his lockdown mandates. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promulgated ridiculous rules, implementing regulations stating it's OK to use a rowboat but not a motorboat to fish, comparable to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stating you can walk on the wet sand of a beach but not dry sand.
Religious leaders have had enough and many are now filing lawsuits against officials who have overstepped their authority by using one standard for secular activities but imposing harsh penalties on religious institutions. Why for instance may a Walmart adopt social-distancing measures and remain open as "essential" but a church is relegated as "non-essential" and ordered closed even if they are capable of adopting measures equal to a Walmart? Churches provide a plethora of free social services to the forgotten in many communities along with offering hope and boosting of morale. The military employs chaplains for that very reason, recognizing that religious solace strengthens morale in crisis. Many churches are now engaging in open defiance of closure orders and daring authorities to arrest them. We live under rules that permit a person to buy alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, or soft porn from a convenience store, but a church is prohibited from disseminating a bulletin or other church literature, if allowed to open at all.
The stubborn refusal to lift restrictions in SLO County with but one tragic death and fewer than 10 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the epidemic's peak, with hundreds of open beds, is ridiculous. Restrictions especially stress the elderly; for those living alone, it amounts to psychological torture under United Nations standards. Closing of medical facilities and other care is resulting in thousands of untreated non-virus-related illnesses and undiagnosed serious conditions that may prove fatal in time, significantly outnumbering virus patients.
We're "not in this together." The lockdown imposed the bulk of the financial burden upon the most vulnerable segment of our population and the artificial disruption of the food supply chain may cause 260 million people to face starvation this year, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Economic disruption is cruel and in this case unnecessary. It's not a question of choosing life or livelihood: both are essential. Δ
Al Fonzi had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Respond in a letter to the editor emailed firstname.lastname@example.org.