Radical Intersection: Where The Constitution Meets The Coronavirus

The First Amendment defines multiple rights that are being suspended due to a type of martial law being imposed around America: churches and large gatherings are being shut down, travel is being restricted and if you dare to write about the "Wuhan Virus" on any social media platform, you are attacked and branded as a xenophobic racist. When and how will full First Amendment rights be restored? - CFFS Editor


By Haley Fowler, The Sacramento Bee

Public closures, a ban on gatherings, quarantine notices and orders for isolation have become increasingly common as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States.

Officials in Washington state and San Francisco are limiting the number of people allowed to attend public gatherings. The governor of California joined them on Thursday in urging the cancellation of all events with more than 250 people in attendance.

The governor of Kentucky, a Bible belt state, has asked churches and other religious institutions to temporarily cancel services.

But if it seems these actions are infringing on individual freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, think again.

Hodge is the director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University, an affiliate of the Network for Public Health Law. As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs, he said, the types of “aggressive measures” taking place in some parts of the country will be used elsewhere.

As of Thursday, more than a dozen states from California to North Carolina have declared a state of emergency to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Hodge said those declarations help shape how public health officials can respond at the state and local level, enabling them to act fast while instituting forms of social distancing — “which is one of the only tools we have available to us” during a public health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Officials typically have to go through legal processes to close an establishment or shut down public gatherings, Hodge said. But under a state of emergency, everything is expedited.

“It’s not that we don’t have time for First Amendment interests, it’s that we must act fast,” he said. “What was opened today can be closed tomorrow.”

Getting the Courts Involved

That doesn’t mean communities in the U.S. will see the kind of large-scale lock-downs happening in Italy and China, Hodge added.

But there are circumstances under which a voluntary recommendation can become involuntary.

A man in Missouri left quarantine to attend a father-daughter dance at a nearby hotel, McClatchy reported, prompting county health officials to warn “he must remain in his home or they will issue a formal quarantine that will require him and the rest of his family to stay in their home by the force of law.”

When someone opts to evade such recommendations, Hodge said, public health authorities can seek a court order mandating their compliance.

“Some of those basic liberties are going to be truncated for a brief period,” he said. “Most Americans understand the need for that.”

But these types of public closures and requests for self-quarantine aren’t without good reason — it’s “flattening the curve,” Vox reported.

If officials don’t stop the rapid spread of coronavirus, or at least slow it down, epidemiologists have said the health care system could be “overwhelmed by a sudden explosion of illness that requires more people to be hospitalized than it can handle,” according to Vox.

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  • John Dunlap
    commented 2020-03-14 02:56:28 -0700
    I tried to insert some common sense into this mess on my own blog. I’ll summarize here. The virus has a 7-14 day incubation period, during which the victim is contagious. Therefore, it was running around loose, jumping to more and more people, for an absolute minimum of seven days before Chinese health officials noticed it. given the nature of the top heavy, rigidly bureaucratic Chinese system, figure on at least another few weeks for all the arguments over whether, how , and when to notify the rest of the world. Consider that modern air travel moves millions of people and millions of tons of goods all over the world every single day, much of it originating in or passing through China. It’s a safe bet that the virus circumnavigated the globe over a dozen times before the Chinese announced its existence, and that the majority of us have already been exposed. If it were really as dangerous as claimed, the bodies should be stacked all over the place by now.

    So why the media panic? Fear porn is big business. The media use it to keep us watching, Big Pharma uses it to keep us buying their questionable products, and politicians and moneyed interests have always used it to scare us into supporting their agendas. Recognizing this is the first step to regaining our freedom.