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OP-ED: Rep. Andy Biggs: The American crossroads is symbolized by mask mandates

June 19, 2020
In The News

America, and my home state, Arizona, are at a crossroads. We have two roads we can take. One is a return to the path of freedom; the other is totalitarianism. This is not necessarily a partisan issue or even a left/right problem. It is a potential permanent alteration of who we are as a people.

Nothing typifies this more fully than the mandates to wear masks that some governors and mayors are imposing on their citizens. That so many in our country are immediately acquiescent in the broad implementation of mandated masks reveals that we may have lost our way, perhaps irretrievably.

An authoritarian leader typically exercises broad and seemingly endless power. The only two limitations that prevent abuse are the personal conscience of that leader or a rebellion by the people.

Leaders of a free people are elected and have a limited scope of authority delegated to them by those people and which are set forth in a charter. Our charter, of course, is the Constitution, which was designed to implement the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

One might reasonably expect that a free people would express disapprobation toward government leaders who patently violate their freedoms. Indeed, in America, the founders of this country recognized that God has given people freedom to associate, freedom to speak, and concomitantly, freedom to think and dissent.In fact, recent events have powerfully proven these points. Americans, almost universally, were content to see their countrymen march peacefully to protest the death of George Floyd.A people who have never been free, always subjected to an authoritarian leader, become accustomed to dictates from the authoritarian leader. Sometimes those orders will seem reasonable, and sometimes they will be unnecessarily oppressive. But, in either case, it is extremely difficult for the oppressed to seek and obtain redress.

When the protests were hijacked and replaced with rioting, looting, violence, and murder, most of the public justifiably recoiled. A line had been crossed. Marching and chanting was consistent with the American covenant that recognizes the rights to associate, speak, dissent, and seek redress from the government. When one destroys property or life, they violate the American promise and encroach on the freedoms of others.

Most people want the opportunity to pursue happiness in peace. The lawlessness we have seen recently, with the calls to defund and dismantle police departments, put at risk the opportunity for all to achieve the full measure of their creation.

That is why the vast majority of the country supports the police. The thin blue line has long stood between the oppressor and the oppressed, the strong and the weak, and between the violent and the peaceful.

But, even still, some municipalities have indicated that their voters want to eliminate police departments. While that seems dangerous, the notion of self-governance inherent in our American ethos would permit this reckless and foolish policy, but only insomuch as it does not infringe on the rights of citizens.

And that leads back to the mask mandates. Tyrannical governments have issued mandates that everyone in virtually every place wear masks. Their authority to do so is dubious.

A free society might handle this differently. The easiest case is to allow private businesses and landowners to determine the measures they think most appropriate for public health and safety. We used to do that, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Further, those who are uneasy about the safety programs of the business would, as a responsible person, determine whether they wanted to patronize that business. Some businesses would see the need to be stricter in enforcement of health and safety measures, some less so.

The key is that each free person would be able to make their choice.

In public venues, controlled by public bodies, they would make the decision on how to proceed. The voters would determine whether their leaders acted appropriately. Dictatorial measures might even produce peaceful protests to express disapprobation.

In Arizona, we are seeing tremendous government overreach. The universal mask policies cross the line. The leaders who make these orders are abusing their power and reaching into the private domains of their citizens. On this issue, they certainly resemble autocrats rather than public servants.

As we look at the fork in the road, something seemingly so simple as a universal mask mandate symbolizes where we can choose to go: on a path of renewed freedom or down the path of untethered government control of every aspect of our lives, which will surely lead to ruin.