The CDC has recommended that individuals wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public settings and when social distancing isn’t possible. Many US state and city governments have now made wearing masks in public a requirement. Such mandates mean individuals could be charged fines and children could be sent home from school as potential consequences for not following the rule.
For many people, it’s hard to see why someone would have an objection to wearing a mask in public spaces in times like these. But free speech and liberty are strong elements of the American identity. And there is a strong vocal minority claiming that masks violate their constitutional rights.
But does being forced to wear a mask infringe on your rights according to the constitution? Let’s take a look at a few of the main arguments surrounding the mask mandates to get an idea of how pandemic laws impact your rights.
“Mandatory Masks Violate the First Amendment Right to Free Speech”
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The argument that masks impede your freedom of speech hinge upon the idea that they make it impossible for you to communicate freely.
Even if you argue that it affects where and how you can speak, this is covered by “time, place, and manner” restrictions. These are the same laws that stop hate speech crimes and your right to freedom of expression from contradicting one another. Restrictions placed on protests, such as barring early-morning or late-night demonstrations, are one example of such restrictions that are allowed under the First Amendment. These restrictions are allowed as long as they do not discriminate based on what is being said, but only where, when, and how.
Alongside this, the government has the power to make decisions that supersede your constitutional rights if it is in the interest of national health, safety, and security. In this case, requiring people to wear masks to tame the spread of a deadly virus is within the authority of the government to protect the public’s safety.
“Mandatory Masks Violate the Constitutional Right to Liberty”
This next argument has two sides to it. Some argue that being forced to wear a mask is a breach of freedom in general, while others say that it impedes their right to make decisions about their own health and bodily integrity.
There are a lot of restrictions that are already placed on you in public places, at work, and within businesses. Drinking in public and littering are widely illegal in the US, and these offenses could get you into trouble. These restrictions don’t impede on your rights, as you have the freedom to choose whether or not you put yourself in a scenario where you’re subject to them.
Arguably, this also applies to face masks; that you have the right to choose whether or not to go to places where masks are mandatory.
The US Constitution protects our most fundamental rights as US citizens and as human beings, but other protections regarding the health and safety of the public can be put in place in times of extreme caution, such as during the current pandemic.
Napoli Shkolnik and Your Personal Rights
Napoli Shkolnik is deeply concerned with individual rights and issues that may conflict with them. While mask mandates are not unconstitutional, it is good to be cautious in protecting personal rights during chaotic times like the one the current pandemic has created.
As legislation is passed in an attempt to protect public safety, we are fighting to ensure that personal safety and rights are protected as well.
For example, earlier this year, New York regulations granted broad immunities to healthcare providers during COVID-19 that could potentially bar malpractice claims. Lawmakers limited these immunities in July, but we continue to advocate that the law granting immunity be repealed completely to guard patients’ safety and ability to fight injustices.
In cases where your rights and safety are at risk, a Napoli Shkolnik civil litigation attorney is here to help you protect your individual rights.