With COVID-19 here to stay until science figures out how to treat and/or prevent it, the data is clear: everyone who can needs to wear a mask in public. We have had some declarations about an unchallengeable “right” not to wear a mask, but the United States has never been a country of rights divorced from common sense or the public good. In fact, the only right in the entire Constitution that is absolute is the right to believe whatever you choose under the First Amendment. Everyone has the unassailable right to believe what they want about mask-wearing. They simply do not have a right to refuse to do so where others’ lives and health are at stake.
Other than the right to believe, the other constitutional rights—like a “right” to go into public without a face covering–are balanced against the government’s interest. It is the government’s obligation to protect the vulnerable, and this is as good an example as exists of the necessity of enforcing a rule even if it does impinge on some rights. Life itself is named as a right in the Bill of Rights, and those who refuse to wear masks in public are threatening life.
The Framers of the Constitution understood that there is such a thing as too much liberty—they called it “licentiousness.” Those asserting an unassailable right to go in public without a mask are taking license with the health of others. That’s not a constitutional right we honor in the United States.
In a perfect world, an order to wear masks would now be heard as though it is in an echo chamber, starting with the President and bouncing through Congress, Governors, state, county, and local officials. We would see all of them wearing masks, social distancing, and demanding everyone else do the same. We would hear them endlessly pitching mask-wearing for the sake of the greater good of all. That is not happening, and, therefore, we have unnecessary infection rates and deaths on an inhumane scale. Hence, my modest proposal.
It occurs to me that perhaps we could take a page out of the pro-life movement to achieve the pro-life goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The movement has spent decades chipping away at women’s reproductive rights, and as much as I disagree with their position as a matter of my religious faith, you have to give them credit. They have had some seriously innovative ideas. I would like to propose modifying one of their initiatives to save living people from COVID-19.
The pro-life movement has spent years pushing so-called “informed consent” laws that require a woman to listen to the heartbeat of the embryo before being able to get an abortion. There are also more extreme tactics that would block an abortion by requiring the detection of a heartbeat, and banning all abortions as soon as it can be heard. Either way, the obvious tactic is to require the woman to think of the embryo as a human being that she would want to protect.
These paternalistic approaches have been subject to withering constitutional challenge, but I think they have the seed of a great idea for the times. There is hesitation on the part of lawmakers and law enforcement to enforce mask-wearing, so let’s make it easier and turn it into a wake-up moment.
My modest proposal: For every person in public who is not wearing a mask and is within 6 feet of another unrelated person, they should be required to go to the station and on a large screen, view and hear an adult’s beating heart for 30 seconds. Then the police will read (just like they read Miranda rights to suspects) the following: “by not wearing a mask, you have endangered others. This is unreasonably dangerous behavior that could lead to someone else’s suffering and even their heart stopping due to COVID-19.” I’m tempted to add, “So put on a damn mask,” but I think we’ve gotten the point across with the sound and image.
In the midst of this pandemic, it’s time for the American people to adopt a pro-life attitude toward living human beings.