opinion

OPINION: Stay-at-home orders don't violate your liberties



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A near-empty Kirkwood Avenue is pictured April 8 by the Sample Gates. Carl Cote

Some churches and protesters are crying out against what they perceive to be an infringement of their First Amendment rights: stay-at-home orders.

In Fishers, iTown Church held in-person services Sunday, even as the number of reported cases continued to rise in the state. In a Facebook video, iTown Pastor Dave Sumrall says that the fundamental right to worship was being revoked. There were 963 new COVID-19 cases reported in Indiana that day, according to the state health department

Reopening churches for in-person services is a reckless decision that will further spread COVID-19. The quarantine order isn’t a violation of our free exercise rights. Weekly services, small group meetings and counseling can take place online and don’t require live meetings.

The same goes for businesses. If we’re forced to choose between saving lives and saving the economy from a recession, opening up stores and restaurants too soon will achieve neither.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Saturday during the National Academy of Sciences annual meeting that federal and state governments must increase the number of COVID-19 tests administered per week from 2 to 4 million before reopening.

“I don’t think the market will get the economic growth if people are dying all over the place,” David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors, told Reuters last month.

A common refrain among Republicans is that “the cure" shouldn’t be worse than the problem. Earlier this month, some protesters in Michigan likened stay-at-home orders to tyrannical regimes. Attorney General William Barr even hinted last week at investigating some states’ orders, saying they might go "too far."

This is wrong. These rules are not a violation of our liberties, and they are not tyrannical. Gathering in person to protest them will only exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.

In Indiana, more than 200 people gathered in front of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s residence April 18 in protest of the statewide stay-at-home order. Three days before in Michigan, thousands protested in cars and on foot on the steps of the capitol building. Some were armed with assault rifles and waved “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, calling for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s removal.

Fears of the beginnings of an authoritarian regime in the U.S. are clearly present. One Indiana protester at the governor's residence told the Indianapolis Star he didn't want the country to become "a North Korea." However, such fears are unfounded when considering a necessary measure to combat a pandemic.

The problem with elective social distancing is that most people would continue to go about their normal pre-pandemic lives. They would still be going to restaurants, malls and churches. This is an example of the bystander effect, which occurs when everyone believes someone else will respond to an emergency. 

Nobody wants to be in quarantine longer than necessary, but it’s a responsibility we all must take seriously.

U.S. history is rife with examples of the government restricting personal liberties. However, it would be foolish of us to consider these temporary restrictions as acts of tyranny when they're necessary and fair.

Consider the First Amendment. Religious groups have continued to do important work while maintaining social distancing. The press remains a vital source of reliable information and updates on COVID-19, even as President Donald Trump seeks to denigrate critics. Social media and news outlets continue to allow free speech, and individuals have retained the right to contact their representatives in local, state and federal government to discuss important issues.

The one First Amendment liberty arguably curtailed is the right to peaceably assemble. However, resources such as Facebook groups and other modern forms of communication allow for people to join together to cooperate and work on problems they may face.

There’s a great irony in the protesters who say stay-at-home orders are tyrannical. Similar supporters of Trump have said victims of police brutality should've followed the rules by not resisting arrest or turned their faces away from inhumane treatment of immigrants while saying immigrants should've entered “the right way.”

At the end of the day, we must understand that a temporary inconvenience is different from tyranny. More than 50,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. We should honor them and those working tirelessly to fight the disease by remaining in quarantine.

Everett Kalman (he/him) is a junior studying law and public policy and is the vice president of external affairs for Culture of Care at IU. He plans on practicing immigration law in the future.

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