Ted Cruz: Government Rules About Social Distancing Should Not Be Abused to Squelch the First Amendment

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File

FILE – In this March 28, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles police officers patrol a sparsely populated Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been on a tear the last couple of weeks after reports of authoritarian-like rules being put in place at the local and state levels in certain parts of the country. Some of the more extreme measures have led to some disturbing confrontations that should have never happened between the local police and citizens in their respective communities.

Sadly, my state has been home to some of these stories, but I digress.

In any event, Cruz penned a must-read opinion piece in the New York Post today, explaining how Democratic governors in states like Kentucky need to check themselves before they wreck themselves when it comes to the emergency rules they put in place for combating the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic:

State and local officials across the country, most of the left, are using the crisis to unleash their inner authoritarians; their command-and-control instincts have been on full display.

Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has long admired left-wing authoritarians like Che Guevara — threatened religious leaders that their churches, synagogues, mosques and temples would be shuttered “permanently” if they continue to meet for services. Permanently. Really.

In Louisville, Ky., and Greenville, Miss., Democratic mayors fought to stop individuals from attending church for Lenten and Easter services, even if they remained in their cars to worship. A court halted the Louisville effort, but Greenville police issued $500 tickets to parishioners attending a drive-through service last Wednesday.

These are flagrant abuses of power. While cities have the authority to prevent large gatherings during a pandemic, they can’t permanently ban faith communities. And while public health may require a city to prohibit in-person gatherings, it is an absurdity to apply that ban to First Amendment-protected drive-through church services.

[…]

Stay-at-home orders must not become tools for opportunistic authoritarians. To be constitutional, these orders must be narrowly tailored to restrain only those activities that pose a significant risk to the public health.

I hope that state and local officials will rectify the profoundly destructive, unconstitutional effects of their mandates. We can and must protect ourselves against disease — we shouldn’t have to protect ourselves against tyranny, as well.

Indeed. What worries me is that the longer stay at home orders are extended, the more we may see leaders at the local and state levels in states like Michigan and Kentucky go even further in attempts to limit freedoms under the banner of “protecting the people.”

As Cruz noted, the government at all levels does have a critical role here in helping to prevent the spread of the disease, but they shouldn’t abuse it to trample on the First Amendment rights of American citizens to worship and protest. As long as they are doing it while maintaining safe distances from each other, there shouldn’t be any police intervention whatsoever.