Over the weekend, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that “synagogues” and “churches” that disobey his order to remain shut down may be closed permanently as punishment. One can’t help but notice that the good mayor conspicuously omitted one type of worship facility from this dire warning. But whether mosques are exempt or not, the bigger issue is that Bill de Blasio certainly does not have the authority to permanently close places of worship as a punitive measure for defying his commands. He has the word “mayor” in front of his name, not “sultan” or “king” or “supreme leader.” And the First Amendment still exists, even if he’d prefer to pretend otherwise.
But this is just one example of government officials seizing power that does not belong to them. And it’s not only happening in the United States. Over in the UK, police are setting up checkpoints to questions drivers about where they’re going and why. Those deemed to be engaged in “non-essential” travel will be fined. Some UK police departments have gone so far as to deploy drones to track and follow non-essential joggers, hikers, and dog walkers.
Back in the states, the power-drunk Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, has decreed that residents may only walk outside for short periods of time. The following is an actual sentence uttered by this person: “Outside is for a brief respite, not for 5Ks.” Yes, Mayor Lightfoot has decided what “outside” is “for,” and anyone who uses “outside” for any reason that does not accord with her wishes will face legal penalties.
In Howard County, Indiana, the local Board of Commissioners has decided that even the so-called “essential” businesses are being given far too much leeway. An edict has therefore been passed down that essential businesses may only sell items that the Board of Commissioners has deemed essential. All jewelry, home decor, toys, games, carpets, rugs, furniture, craft supplies, paint, and electronics must be taped off. Businesses may not sell those items and residents may not purchase them for the foreseeable future.
Of course, none of this really makes much sense from a practical standpoint. If a person is shopping for food, and has managed to navigate the grocery aisles without infecting anyone or getting infected himself, how much additional danger could really be posed by briefly swinging by the game aisle to grab Monopoly or Stratego? And who is to say that toys and games are non-essential anyway? As a parent living with four young kids in quarantine, I’d argue that activities of that sort are far more essential than half of the stuff you find in the grocery section.
Speaking of which, will they start excluding non-essential food items, too? Perhaps the Board of Commissioners will decide that nobody needs to be eating potato chips or drinking soda during quarantine. And they’d be right. Nobody needs to. But that doesn’t answer the question of why that measure or any of the others listed above are reasonable or necessary in the fight against the coronavirus, and it doesn’t answer the even more important question of where these bureaucrats and politicians derive the authority to threaten, punish, and control the population in this manner?
Most people accept that governments do have the power to impose quarantines. But that power is not absolute and it is not a blank check that allows them to issue whatever other rules and commands that may pop into their heads. Those like de Blasio and Lightfoot and the people on the Howard County Board of Commissioners appear to be acting not according to a concern for public health but according to their fetish for control.
The really worrisome thing is that so many citizens of this country seem to be accepting this state of affairs without question. Indeed, those who question it are liable to be shouted down by the unquestioning. I suppose the latter camp believes the government will kindly relinquish its dictatorial powers once this crisis is at an end. But history reveals them as gullible fools. Governments never give up power once attained. They only seek to normalize it and bide their time until even the questioning get used to it.