The First Amendment and Mask Mandates

Since COVID-19 first turned the world upside down, there have been debates over the steps required to protect against the virus. Wearing a face mask is one of the easiest methods to prevent the spread, so places have started requiring people to wear masks. This has sparked debates from people who do not think masks provide any benefit or who simply do not want to be forced to wear a mask.

Several times the debates have surfaced on the A-State student app, where students who disagree with the mask mandate have taken to the public platform to voice their opinions. Arguments spanning several hours and several posts usually follow.

Now, they’re totally allowed to do that. Constitutionally, you have the right to voice your opinion. The whole point of the Opinion page, of my job in general, is to voice opinions. But that doesn’t mean you can voice your opinions without consequence.

The first amendment in its entirety reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Many have interpreted this to mean “I’m allowed to say whatever I want wherever I want and nobody can stop me.” But I’ve always read it as “Congress can’t pass a law saying you can’t say, report on or practice whatever you want; and you’re allowed to assemble protests if you don’t like what the government is doing.” There’s nothing in the first amendment that says your free speech has no consequences – it just grants you the freedom to speak.

Are people who post in the A-State app using their right to protest that they don’t like what rules the school has put in place practicing their first amendment rights? Maybe you could say that. Technically a college is a government-funded entity. But I would argue it’s a little different – because you’re also announcing to all of campus that you plan on breaking a rule put in place to protect them.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that I wanted to bring alcohol to campus, and was absolutely incensed that the university had mandated that I couldn’t. Say I publicly posted on the A-State student app that I was against the rule stating I wasn’t allowed to bring alcohol to campus, and that I planned to bring a bottle of vodka to campus the next day. At the very least, I would expect to be reported to Student Conduct.

That’s what we all expect and agree to when we register to attend a university – you break the rules, you get in trouble. You threaten students, you get in trouble. So why is refusing to follow the mask mandate any different? By refusing to follow guidelines meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 I would definitely argue that you are threatening the health of your fellow students.

I don’t want to waste words explaining why wearing masks keeps people safe. If you believe they work, or you don’t, I’m not going to be able to change your mind. This isn’t about your political beliefs or whether you think COVID-19 is a hoax – it’s about following the rules you agreed to when you got here. If you don’t want to follow the rules, fine. But shut up about it.

Categories: Opinion

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