“This is all we've got right now to fight this virus, and it is up to each one of us to do our part.” These are words spoken to reporters last week by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly.
“All we’ve got” is a reference to face masks. On Thursday, she signed an executive order requiring all Kansans to wear masks in public spaces. The best Kelly’s got, though, may not be the best for every Kansan.
A 2015 randomized controlled study in the British Medical Journal evaluated 1,607 health care workers throughout 14 hospitals. It revealed the continuous use of cloth masks actually increased respiratory infection rates. The type of mask and the length of wear matters.
Regardless of the efficacy of masks, should a governor or any government authority have the power to cover your mouth? It’s important you know that government tends to grow during times of crisis, and as Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute points out in his book, "Crisis and Leviathan," that growth begins with an expansion of power. From labor disputes and riots in 1886 that propelled public sentiment for an expansion of federal power to regulate industry to the 9/11 attacks that gave way to the Patriot Act expanding the government’s power to surveil Americans, crises have historically served as the perfect matrix for government to expand its power and extend its reach into our personal lives.
A recent Washington Post article (July 4) focused on Joplin, tying the relatively scarce use of masks to a strong Republican base in a way that tried to conjoin the words "Midwestern" and "stupid." Couldn’t it just be that most Missourians have simply placed a higher value on personal freedom?
But threats to personal freedom aren’t just coming from Democrats like the Kansas governor. President Donald Trump's Attorney General William Barr recently created a task force to investigate anti-government extremists after certain groups instigated violence following the death of George Floyd.
In his June 26 memo, he writes, “the task force will develop detailed information about violent anti-government extremist individuals, networks and movements —and will share that information as appropriate with federal, state and local law enforcement.” He adds, “The ultimate goal of the task force will be ... to understand these groups well enough that we can stop such violence before it occurs and ultimately eliminate it as a threat."
A free society cannot flourish without just rule of law, but whenever the government starts spending resources on investigating “anti-government” Americans deemed “extremists” so their crime can be stopped “before it occurs,” one should at least raise an eyebrow. We should be cautious that fear of riots and radical groups such as antifa don’t drive our support for government expansion or increased supervision. It may be antifa today, but it may be you tomorrow.
Consider these words from our own Declaration of Independence: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of (our unalienable rights), it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” Many claimed the signers of that declaration were “anti-government extremist individuals.” We’ve entered a dangerous time if speaking the same words today places us on a government watch list.
Gov. Kelly got the second part right, though: “It is up to each one of us to do our part.” Yes, it is. It’s not up to President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci to do our part in remaining vigilant and informed. It’s not up to Congress to do our part in stimulating our economy. And it’s not up to a governor to ensure we wear masks. It’s up to each one of us to care about each other enough to wash our hands, to stay home when we’re sick, to support those who feel they need to shelter in place, to educate people in our circles of influence — and it’s up to each one of us to wear masks as a personal precautionary measure.
Government enforcement to wear masks isn’t “all we’ve got right now to fight this virus.” Consider the greater weapons of conscientiousness, courtesy, kindness and charity. I choose to fight with those, and I’m not alone. I know volunteers who have delivered meals to the elderly, others who’ve traveled and then responsibly self-quarantined and many who gladly wear masks in our mission while preparing meals for the homeless. Before the government steps in to protect us from each other, let’s exercise real compassion, neighborly concern and do it ourselves.
This love for others won’t just prevent the spread of a virus, it will preserve our liberty.
James Whitford is co-founder and executive director of Watered Gardens Ministries and True Charity Initiative.