Bill de Blasio exploits coronavirus to attack the First Amendment

The coronavirus isn’t just a threat to public health. It might even pose a threat to the First Amendment, too.

On Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that if churches and synagogues violate the city’s “shelter-in-place” order, they could be shuttered permanently.

“Everyone has been instructed that if they see worship services going on, they will go to the officials of that congregation, inform them they need to stop the services and disperse,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “If that does not happen, they will take official action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”

The coronavirus does appear to be spreading rapidly in densely populated areas such as New York City, causing an unprecedented strain on hospital facilities and staff, to say nothing of the physical and emotional toll that comes with the loss of life which is rising by the day. And yes, social distancing appears to work and can save lives, time, and resources, at least to a degree.

Still, how does this need for a societal shutdown coincide with American liberties? Namely, what does this mean for the right to peacefully assemble, worship, and speak freely?

Common sense dictates that citizens follow even uncomfortable protocols such as social distancing, but not everyone is capable of realizing the magnitude of a pandemic like this. A smaller percentage understands but remains apathetic, and an even smaller portion of the population might even gather regardless of what is mandated — as an act of defiance or feigned spiritual maturity, however flawed.

Leave it to liberals such as de Blasio, or even some anxious conservatives, to respond to a pandemic with threats of permanently banning a person’s right to assemble or freely worship: a clear violation of the Constitution. (As opposed to neutral, temporary shutdowns, which may pass constitutional muster). That said, medical experts and government officials are all in agreement that refraining from large gatherings and practicing social distancing is the only weapon our society has right now against this virus.

Still, First Amendment advocates are concerned that the line between liberty and safety, which is admittedly delicate right now, is slowly being crossed.

Becket President Mark Rienzi told me in an email:

“Mayor De Blasio couldn’t possibly have meant his threat about shutting down churches and synagogues permanently. Even in times of crisis, the First Amendment still stands. And the best way to protect our rights and those vulnerable to the crisis is to give each other a little grace in finding ways to keep everyone safe while avoiding conflict. Are there temporary restrictions that we are working under, yes. But they ought to be temporary and informed on the essential needs of religious communities.”

Everyone should be focused on keeping citizens safe, yes, but also doing so without trampling on anyone’s constitutional rights. Our leaders should reject de Blasio’s brash threats, and instead do everything they can to preserve the delicate balance between liberty and safety, two of our nation’s most precious commodities.

*story by The Washington Examiner