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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
The freedom of religion. The freedom of speech. The freedom of the press. The right to assembly. The right to petition the government. These are the first five freedoms outlined and guaranteed by the First Amendment. Of all the rights we are guaranteed, these are the first and arguably the most important of any of the freedoms recognized by our government. But, they do more than just act as rail guards around the government’s inevitable attempts to overreach into our lives. They do more than just beat back the government’s insatiable and ferocious appetite for control. These essential rights also acknowledge out loud, for everyone to hear, that we are human. As such, we are not the property of emperors or would-be kings or queens. We belong to ourselves.
But a strange and dubious thing is happening under COVID-19 lockdowns. Of these five basic human rights only one is not being questioned. Only one is allowed to operate with impunity. That is, the freedom of the press. All other rights be damned. It appears that we the people have to prove our rights are relevant – prove they are essential. Whereas no one would dare question the press’ need to operate un-infringed, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that all other rights must be severely restricted or just be renounced and thrown out the window altogether for the ultimate sake of safety.
Now seems like a nice time to remind us all of Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
There is yet another deceitful attack on our liberties. Under the cover of “We’re all in this together” we have opted in for the collective and laid down our individual sovereignty. We shutter our businesses, to the extent of losing everything, because “We’re all in this together.” According to U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar we will see an additional 65,000 deaths during and after this virus-induced recession due to suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse. But, according to some we should not worry about all of that because “We’re all in this together.” According to the Health Secretary, mammogram screenings are down 87% and colonoscopies are down 90%. In this country we have 1.7 million cases of diagnosed cancer each year. Consistent with cancer screenings being down due to COVID-19, Azar said we could already have more than 300,000 cases of cancer that have gone undiagnosed. But, when asked why hospitals cannot fully reopen for elective procedures, we’re told to leave it up to the “experts” to decide because “We’re all in this together.” We are forsaking our individual liberties for the elusive “good” of the collective.
An alarming trend is taking place in our society today. In speaking with a dear friend about the need to reopen our nation safely and quickly, her rebuttals were littered with phrases like, “I know Americans love their freedoms,” and “I know your liberties are important to you, but….” These little quick staccato phrases were said so often in our 45-minute conversation that I could not ignore them. My first thought was, “You’re an American, too.” My next thought followed quickly: “These freedoms are important.” They are not trite. They are not some meaningless ornament dangling around our necks. They are not pithy little sayings to fill the space in conversations. They are my rights. They say, “I’m human.” They stand on their tippy-toes and yell to a forever encroaching world that “I, the individual, have value.” COVID-19 does not suspend my value or my worth as a human. No amount of so-called safety is worth the cost some of our political leaders are trying to extract under the cover of COVID and our quest for “safety.”
For a little black girl who grew up on a pig farm below the bottom rung of the economic ladder with no influence and no wealth to insulate me from tyrants, these rights helped level the playing field. Bloomberg’s billions do not trump my right to speak. Bill Gates’ billions do not infringe upon my ability to pursue my own idea of happiness and not his. My “elected” leaders are not too highfalutin that I cannot approach them to rectify a policy I strongly disagree with.
For a society that places high regard on our humanity, it’s astounding that we don’t see how protecting all of the First Amendment actually protects all of our rights to be seen as a fellow human being regardless of our income bracket or our list of networks.
As a mother-bear of two little ones, I fully understand the need for safety. The novel coronavirus is real. It is a serious virus that has had a devastating impact on our lives and our livelihoods. However, it is time we begin to walk and chew gum at the exact same time. It is time we reject the false choice that shuttering everything will keep us safe. Shuttering four out of the five First Amendment rights will not make us safer. Instead it will expose those of us with little power, little wealth, and little influence to the heavy hand of government and the wild imaginations of those who wield government power.
If we, who know better, don’t stand up and speak out and actively and openly practice our guaranteed rights, we will lose them. They will be cut right out of the fabric of this nation.