A group of peaceful protesters gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina on Tuesday to call for the re-opening of the state. They stood outside and observed social distancing guidelines. More importantly, they observed the guidelines of the First Amendment, which, plain as day, protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” They were assembled. They were peaceful. And they were petitioning their government for a specific and reasonable thing, namely the right to go back to work and feed their families.
But the protestors forgot that our Founding Fathers, when codifying our inherent human rights into the legal document known as the Bill of Rights, included the important caveat that all rights immediately evaporate whenever there’s a virus and people are scared. You can’t see it because it’s written in invisible ink. That appears to be the legal theory of the governor of North Carolina and his law enforcement agents, anyway, as Raleigh police descended upon the peaceful assembly and instructed it to disperse. At least one of the protestors was arrested.
When asked to justify their actions, the Raleigh Police Department explained on Twitter that — and this is a direct quote — “protesting is a non-essential activity.” I expect that the bootlickers who support the government’s right to arrest people for going to church will find this reasoning totally acceptable. But Americans who value freedom will recognize it as Orwellian insanity. If a politician can unilaterally abolish our fundamental liberties simply by declaring them non-essential, then we have no fundamental liberties. The whole idea becomes a farce. Or, at best, a symbolic concept that we sing about in our songs but that has no practical application in the real world.
It doesn’t matter if a particular protest or church service is essential. That is a matter of opinion, I suppose, and the opinion of a politician or bureaucrat should have no more weight than anyone else’s. The point is that the right to protest, just like the right to practice our religion, is essential. Essential not in the sense of being merely important, but in the deeper sense of being inherent to our nature as human beings. That is the idea that our country was founded upon.
It’s also worth noting that North Carolina has only 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and a little over 400 hospitalizations. That is in a state of 10 million people spread out over 93 counties. Its coronavirus death toll of 108 means that there is an average of slightly more than 1 death per county. These numbers amount to a sad situation, and a serious situation, but they are not a cataclysmic emergency. North Carolina, like most states in the union, has never had a coronavirus emergency. Even if an emergency could justify the suspension of our fundamental human rights — which it can’t, in my view — this would not be such an emergency.
Governments across the country have exploited a virus, and the fear it generates, to seize unprecedented power. We are in the midst of the most severe assault on the Constitution that any of us currently living have ever witnessed. It’s time to choose a side — for freedom or against — and make our stand.