Another Civil Right Bites the Dust: 'Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble'

Another Civil Right Bites the Dust: 'Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble'
(National Archives via AP)

At the risk of overstating the obvious: a civil right that may be cancelled at the discretion of the government is not much of a civil right.

And yet, because of the Wuhan Flu, the entirety of the United States is under some form of directive forbidding the free association guaranteed to its citizens in the Bill of Rights:

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.

  • Amendment I, Constitution of the United States [emphasis added]

Want to go to church and practice your religion? That’s unfortunate. Want to hold a political rally? Maybe later. Want to go to the polls to decide who will direct the country? We aren’t doing that right now. Want to run your store and earn a living? Oh please. If you do, the police will shut you down. You might even wind up in jail.

Are there good reasons to forbid gathering right now? Certainly. And they all boil down to SAFETY.

But consider: if the government can suspend the First Amendment to protect some people from dying from the WuFlu, why shouldn’t the government be allowed to suspend the Second Amendment to keep other people from dying from an epidemic of gun violence?

And if we wind up with President Biden in November, what’s to keep him from not only declaring guns a health emergency but also forbidding former Trump-supporting “nationalists” from congregating, so that the dangerous, racist “virus” of nationalism doesn’t sweep the country again and upset the political order he has re-established?

A form of political correctness seems to have taken hold of the commentariat across the political spectrum in the last few weeks. Everyone is talking about toilet paper, Purell, and home yoga routines and ignoring for the most part the quiet civil rights disaster unfolding before our eyes.

Julie Kelly at American Greatness broached the taboo, concluding:

This is a dangerous time and not just because of the threat of a treatable disease. Americans are willingly surrendering to government their freedom, their livelihood, their long-term economic security, and their mental well-being over unjustified panic about a virus that might have already spread and now is abating. If this is the new normal, where incomplete data and media-fueled panic rule the day, that is an even more frightening prospect than what’s happening right now.

The precedent we are setting cannot help but come back to haunt us. If ‘safety’ becomes a routine justification for abrogating fundamental civil rights, how long before governors like California’s Gavin Newsom leverage their newfound leeway for other purposes? Mayors are already producing orders to control firearms in case of rioting from the WuFlu lockdowns and shortages. What happens after the next mass shooting?

And what if, heaven forbid, that mass shooting unfolds at a Kroger in the next week?

Will conceal-carry permits be suspended? Will citizens no longer be allowed to transport their lawfully owned firearms? In a time when personal protection has grown critical, will Americans be forced to choose between breaking blatantly unconstitutional fiats and going undefended?

But maybe all this amounts to talk of shutting the barns doors after the horses have decamped to a different ZIP code. Most debate about the WuFlu response has centered around mortality and economics, not morality or ideology. That says something about Americans’ concerns and priorities.

Arguing against government overreaction to the WuFlu, conservative writer Heather MacDonald writes: 

A prolonged depression will stunt lives as surely as any viral epidemic, and its toll will not be confined to the elderly. The shuttering of auto manufacturing plants led to an 85 percent increase in opioid deaths in the surrounding counties over seven years, according to a recent study. Radical social upheaval is possible.

MacDonald’s point is well taken and likely correct. But demanding people shut themselves in their homes in violation of the supreme law of the land is ALREADY “radical social upheaval” from a moral/ideological standpoint. We don’t need statistics or projections to argue THAT.

Civil rights cannot be evaluated in dollars and cents. Nor can they be judged by deaths, immediate or future. The cost of freedoms and civil rights is lives and treasure; it has ever been thus, from the Revolution to today. Every time the United States has fought authoritarianism, it has sacrificed blood and gold so that people may, for example, go to church, to the polls, or associate with others free from government meddling.

If fear drives Americans to embrace authoritarianism themselves, it might save lives from disease. It might save money. But what sort of life will it be when we lose even the pretense of a nation founded upon and dictated by principle?

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