In October 2001, just more than a month after we watched the Twin Towers crumble and nearly 3,000 Americans fall to their deaths, President George W. Bush signed into law the Patriot Act in attempt to better secure our nation.
Though the quickly drafted anti-terrorism legislation was critiqued by some as a violation of First Amendment rights — and certainly elements of it very frighteningly toed or even crossed that line — it was widely accepted by both parties as necessary for the preservation of American lives.
It was deemed necessary during that unique circumstance to preserve the common good.
Since the inception of our Republic, Americans have been tasked with walking that fine line between individual rights and the welfare of the nation as a whole.
During a 1905 smallpox outbreak the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a government-mandated vaccine, saying, “upon principle of self-defense of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”
And recently, Chief Justice John Roberts cited a court case presented during the Spanish flu of 1918.
That case — Jacobson v Massachusetts — mandated face masks, once again noting that such unprecedented emergencies necessitate the protection of public health.
COVID-19 has us again facing difficult questions. Where do we draw the line on individual liberties in favor of preserving the common good?
While elements of the U.S. Constitution and our individual civil liberties have thankfully evolved over the past century, these court decisions — still cited today — argue that public health and safety trumps the desire of the individual.
Until there is a COVID vaccine, wearing a face mask is the best line of defense for all of us.
Regardless of what some basement blogger or talking head says, wearing a mask protects the common good.
We do not argue that individuals should blindly follow mandates. Absolutely not. It is always good to question and critique.
But facts still exist. And the facts about wearing face masks are clear.
Masking helps protect the common good against a virus that is still running rampant.
When we learned how harmful secondhand smoke is, we were resistant at first to listen to the pleas of doctors, but we got over ourselves and stopped smoking in restaurants, hospital lobbies and on airplanes.
There is too much at stake to continue allowing COVID — and the use of face coverings — to be used as a political prop.
This is about keeping our friends, family members and neighbors alive and well. Why is that not enough of a reason — government mandate be damned — to put a piece of fabric across our faces when we go into the grocery to get a gallon of milk?
Our individual comfort is not more important than the health and well-being of others.
More than 200,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID-19 — nearly 75 times the number of lives lost on 9/11. That number will continue to climb until we all wise up.
To us it seems relatively simple. Make a modest sacrifice for your neighbors and your country, and put on the damn mask.