Is Being Forced to Wear a Mask an Infringement of Rights?


Credit: WHO

Best ways to use a mask.

Many individuals argue that a mask mandate violates personal freedom and frequently cite the Constitution as a reason why some businesses and local governments can not impose a mask mandate. Some individuals reason that a mask impedes them from clearly dictating their speech, that a mask does not allow them to practice their religion, that they are not allowed to assemble because of social distancing and the government can not be petitioned because there is no ability to gather en masse.

None of these arguments hold up to scrutiny. To start, the notion that the government itself does not have the power to impose a mask mandate is false. In the same way that the government has a right to enforce that all drivers must drive on the right side of the road, they have the same power to impose a decree that all citizens must wear a face covering in public spaces. Throughout the duration of the pandemic, thirty-five states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico have imposed a mask mandate.

Additionally, on December 15th, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a New Jersey priest and rabbi could not allow their worshippers to bypass Governor Murphy’s mask mandate while in their houses of worship. At the same time, the court upheld the religious house’s petition on Governor Murphy’s imposition of strict gathering limit numbers. The New Jersey government looked to argue that other public spaces such as retail centers and essential businesses could have a larger capacity than religious spaces. Their petition was upheld by the Supreme Court, barring New Jersey from imposing stricter restrictions on religious establishments than other businesses. The case expresses a clear denotation of the Supreme Court and the New Jersey government’s power to enforce a mask mandate even if it does not allow differential treatment to different public spaces.

The First Amendment gives citizens the following liberties: freedom of speech, religion, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government. If your ability to speak clearly is impeded by the use of a mask but furthers the public good by protecting health and safety, your ability to speak clearly can be impeded to ensure public health. In the same way that is not permissible to yell ‘fire in a crowded theatre’, it is not protected to protest a mask mandate that benefits public health. Additionally, while a mask may impede clear articulation, it does not suppress speech or free speech in any form.

In terms of a mask impeding religious practice, the Employment Division v. Smith Supreme Court case in 1983 distinguished “laws that do not intend to single out religion, but instead apply widely must be “rationally related” to a “legitimate” governmental interest to be constitutional” (As according to Rossen Law Firm). This means that the demand to wear a mask falls into the category of “rationally related” and “legitimate” laws where mask-wearing does not impede government authority to wear a mask.

The First Amendment rights to assemble and petition the government both fall under the same classification and both are directly unrelated to being forced to wear a mask. A mask may obstruct you from articulating what you want to say, but it does not in any form hinder you from saying what you want.

We go about our day wearing a federally mandated seatbelt, using safety-approved vehicles, and eating FDA-approved foods, yet we never question whether it is Constitutional for us to wear a seatbelt or whether we must find a vehicle from a safety-approved company. In the same way that government mandates connect to our daily routines and we don’t question their efficacy, a mask is another example of a policy that can be imposed with the intention of safeguarding public health.

Whether or not you have confidence in the science behind wearing a mask, it is clear that the constitution has no part in hindering a mask mandate. Both for your safety and others, hopefully, your compliance with wearing a mask stems from the understanding that being forced to wear a mask is not an infringement of your personal rights.