There’s no doubt that some politicians are using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to enact their agenda, even if it has nothing to do with keeping the American people healthy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have spoken explicitly about the “opportunities” presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and politicians have attempted to pack stimulus bills and coronavirus response legislation with all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the crisis at hand. Mayors like Jackon, Mississippi’s Chokwe Lumumba have tried to enact unconstitutional gun control laws in the name of public health, and governors like New Jersey’s Phil Murphy have done their best to prevent residents from exercising their Second Amendment rights to purchase and train with a firearm.
All of these things are true, yet I keep seeing some not-great and even inaccurate arguments being used in an attempt to persuade the public and politicians that it’s time to stand up for the erosion of our civil liberties. At the Midland Reporter-Telegram, activist Jenny Cudd gets a few things wrong while rightly arguing in defense of those individual liberties, and I think she hurts her own argument in the process.
Cudd says, for example, that churches are coming under attack by authoritarian governors like Greg Abbott in Texas.
Freedom of Religion: Our religious leaders are letting the government dictate how they lead their congregants. Why? Instead of allowing those who want to freely come and worship the God of their choosing, it appears they have caved to fear and political correctness. The governor made a specific declaration that churches are essential. If a specific declaration is necessary, we know that we have already sacrificed too much power over our freedom of religion. Tracing is being used in churches across the country including in Kansas City, Missouri, where gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and attendees must register with the state. It is disappointing that the majority of church leaders appear to be cowering to political correctness.
First off, I’m not aware of any governor attempting to dictate how religious leaders preach to their congregants, though many of them are limiting the number of congregants who can attend in person. I’m also unclear how declaring that churches are essential means that we’ve sacrificed our freedom of religion. It would seem to me that’s more of a protection of our First Amendment rights than an erosion of them. Cudd is also simply mistaken or ill-informed when she states that church attendees in Kansas City, Missouri must register with the state, and it’s downright lazy to ascribe this to political correctness as opposed to a heavy-handed response to the coronavirus. Almost two weeks ago the city dropped its contact tracing requirement for businesses and churches, though city officials are still encouraging establishments to do so on a voluntary basis.
Next, Cudd turns to the freedom of speech, which she also believes is being curtailed at the moment.
What is freedom of speech? If you have ever had your Facebook post censored or been thrown in FB jail, you have experienced some of the vast amount of censorship that is going on today. Freedom of speech is just that. Freedom to speak your opinion whether anyone agrees with it or not. The San Antonio City Council passed an ordinance that anyone referencing the country of origin of this virus will be investigated for hate speech.
Again, Cudd is wrong on the details. The San Antonio City Council passed a goofy resolution, not an ordinance, that denounces “hate speech” like calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” The resolution has no force of law, however, and there’s nothing in the resolution that states anyone referencing the fact that the virus came from China will be investigated for hate speech. You could stand outside the Alamo today and yell “Kung Fu virus” at the top of your lungs, and you won’t be arrested for hate speech. As for Facebook and other private companies shadowbanning and censoring posts, it’s absolutely happening, but these are also private companies that, at least as the law stands now, can impose all kinds of restrictions on the speech of users.
What about the Second Amendment?
As one of the people who helped organize the show of support for the two Odessa businesses that chose to open against the governor’s recommendation, I am surprised at how many Second Amendment supporters have decided to discriminate against what type of gun is acceptable. Regardless of your preference in guns, the Second Amendment protects any law-abiding citizen’s right to possess and carry. While everyone is focused on the pandemic, several states are passing red flag laws and anti-gun legislation. In New Mexico, you are no longer allowed to operate a gun store or purchase a gun.
Here, Cudd’s argument is a little better. She’s right that the Second Amendment protects our right to both keep and bear arms, but the individuals arrested outside of the Odessa bar that reopened weren’t arrested for carrying the wrong type of firearm. They were charged with possessing firearms where they were prohibited by law from doing so. Frankly, I think this case poses some real challenges for prosecutors, but like it or not, those are the actual charges.
As for anti-gun legislation, I’m not aware of any gun control bill that’s been passed by legislators over the past two months, but Gov. Ralph Northam in Virginia did sign several pieces of anti-gun legislation, including a red flag law, that had been approved by lawmakers before the coronavirus crisis began. In the meantime, we actually have seen pro-gun bills pass and become law, like the ban on red flag laws signed by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt over the weekend.
In New Mexico, the situation was a little more complicated than Cudd made it out to be. Gun stores were deemed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to be “non-essential,” but essential retailers that carried firearms as part of their store selection were able to remain open, and most of the state’s gun stores were allowed to re-open under social distancing measures on May 1st. To be fair to Cudd, the NRA and other 2A organizations did file a federal lawsuit over Grisham’s orginal orders shutting down firearms retailers, and I do believe that the governor is one of several politicians who’ve used the coronavirus pandemic to assume powers not granted to her by the state or federal constitutions.
The strongest part of Cudd’s argument comes not from trying to cite examples of unconstitutional infringements, but when she speaks of the plight of small business owners.
We citizens are allowing our government to dictate what jobs are essential and not essential. Our local and state officials are discriminating against types of businesses when all of the chain or big box stores are allowed to remain open. I have yet to see one single elected official in our community stand up for small businesses. They have all let us down. Small businesses employ 66 percent of the workforce in America, and even now, there are still some businesses that do not know when they can open in Texas. Regardless of the type of business, our Constitution assures each of us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. States are releasing convicted criminals and jailing business owners. Why haven’t the organizations whose missions are to support small businesses made a public statement supporting all small businesses and their right to operate?
Two months into our national emergency, it’s become obvious to most people that every business is essential, at least to the owner and employees. We should be moving beyond those arbitrary designations and putting in place reasonable requirements for businesses to reopen safely and responsibly, while recognizing that the heavy hand of law enforcement is probably not the best way to enforce social distancing measures.
I think Cudd has some valid points, but I wish she had used better arguments and more accurate anecdotes in making them. The truth about what’s going on is frightening enough without needing to scare readers with misleading or inaccurate details. I would have cited the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi attempting to ban the open carrying of firearms, for example, instead of vaguely referring to gun control legislation passed by unnamed states in recent weeks. This could have been a much stronger case for protecting our civil liberties than it ended up being, and that’s a shame, because I think the point of Cudd’s piece is true: our civil liberties are being threatened, and it is up to us to use them or risk losing them.