As if the coronavirus pandemic itself were not enough, governments of the world are now being challenged by protests about freedom of movement.
I recently attended a Weber Area Council of Governments meeting where manhandling of people who violate certain aspects of the stay-at-home rule was soundly denounced.
It is true those rules should be treated with sensitivity and as advisories. Violators, with few exceptions, should not be treated as criminals. However, we should be mindful the Constitution not only guarantees certain human rights but also charges the government with the responsibility to protect its citizens. Finding that balance is the key.
The preamble to the Constitution puts a great deal of responsibility on the government. It reads: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
In order to provide for justice, tranquility, defense, general welfare and liberty, governments have found it necessary to create public safety, military, health, education, economic, infrastructure and logistics organizations.
These entities do not exist to curtail but to “secure the blessings of liberty” and well-being for the people they serve. They are the key to the balance between the guarantee of freedom and the duty of government.
While it is the charge of those who serve in government positions to be sensitive and sensible, it is also the responsibility of us as citizens to be well-informed (as opposed to the mob mentality) and to respect the need for law and order for the common good.
Those who gather in protest, risk devastating health consequences for themselves, their loved ones and those around them. They should remember that constitutional guarantees are broader than simply freedom of movement.
Let’s review them.
Interpreters of the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause (Article IV, Section 2) infer that the freedom to travel across state boundaries and to move about is a right that must be respected.
The First Amendment, of course, provides protection of the right to speak one’s mind, to allow uninhibited media and to assemble as a group for a variety of reasons, including protesting or beseeching the government to fix things.
The Ninth Amendment tells us that listing these specific rights does not mean citizens do not have other unmentioned rights. We must assume the timeless natural laws of humanitarianism are applicable here.
The Tenth Amendment gives state governments the right to exercise powers now being used to control the pandemic. It says that federal authority not delegated in the Constitution belongs to the states or to the people.
Those who necessarily gather during this pandemic to provide the public services outlined in the Constitution are health, public safety, education and human service professionals. They are the heroes who have always put personal needs at risk to serve.
We’re fortunate to have citizen-heroes among us as well — the many volunteers who make protective face masks, run errands for the homebound, help kids with homework during a time of distance learning.
At Weber State University, athletes hosted a drive-through food drive in the Dee Events Center parking lot and collected 9,000 pounds of food for the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank and Salvation Army here in Northern Utah.
The College of Social & Behavioral Sciences used student volunteers to check on the well-being of each of their fellow students.
The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service recruited high school students to produce online videos of themselves reading stories to young school children quarantined at home.
These WSU examples represent a few easy ways we can all support one another.
Just the simple act of treating each other more respectfully in public during these trying times is worth a word of thanks and praise.
It seems that all of us together have developed a higher sense of awareness and concern for each other. The beautiful outcome of this terrible pandemic could be found in our ability to sustain that mutual service and appreciation as we move into the future.
We must always recognize the importance of our individual roles in maintaining a government that cares and a citizenry that loves.