As America Opens Up, Let’s Reclaim What Is Fundamental

April 14, 2020 Updated: April 15, 2020

Commentary

As the United States takes its first slow, halting steps to emerge from the CCP virus-induced cocoon of the past month, it’s not enough to celebrate, however prematurely, a victory over a malignant bug that has been weaponized against the world by the irresponsible Chinese communists.

Even more important than the grand reopening of civilization, however, is how we do it, taking care to ensure that not just our shopfronts are unlocking but that our Constitution is once again preserved, protected, and defended.

The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, and our reaction to it, has brought a lot of things into stark relief. For one thing, the transient social concerns such as “transgenderism,” about which we were supposed to be having a “national conversation,” have faded away in the face of a genuine concern.

And a fantasy like the “Green New Deal,” which purports to save the world from a nonexistent threat many decades in the future, seems like both a waste of time and money. It’s helpful to recall that as the morning of 9/11 dawned, people were talking about the disappearance of a Washington intern named Chandra Levy; a few hours later, they weren’t.

By contrast, COVID-19—the disease caused by the CCP virus—and the draconian reaction to the pandemic by government at all levels of our constitutional and federal system, has brought to the forefront a right and proper discussion about the extent of governmental power.

Government Power

The left, which has long yearned for a strong central government in Washington and advocates the abolition of the Electoral College in order to achieve a plebiscitary democracy, has suddenly discovered the joys of states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment and are celebrating their new heroes, Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York.

Meanwhile, on the right, “free market” Davos conservatives have suddenly received a sobering lesson on the limits of globalism and the outsourcing of industry to cheap-labor countries such as China. And everyone has learned the importance of maintaining good health and a strong immune system well past middle age.

Some of the other things we’ve discovered, however, are troubling, such as the arbitrary way various states have interpreted their quarantine powers. Some governors, such as Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat serving her first term, have acted like mini-tyrants, banning traveling in-state between residences (many Michiganders own summer homes in the north of the state), motor boating, gardening, golfing, and the sale of some home repair items, sparking talk of a recall.

More troublingly, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, another Democrat, sent the state police out to record the license-plate numbers of people attending Easter weekend church services.

“Taking license plates at church? Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here,” wrote Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Twitter.

If you had asked Americans two months ago whether a state has the right to forbid its residents from attending church, you’d have been dismissed as a kook. But acting on the theory that the virus is most easily spread through large gatherings in enclosed spaces, some state officials have been interpreting their “general police power” very liberally, in both senses of the word: Churches may be forced to close, while abortion mills are deemed “essential,” and remain open for business.

But who’s to say which businesses or activities are essential and which aren’t?

Other aspects of the shutdown have raised questions we’ve never before had to ask. President Donald Trump, who’s generally acted according to the tenets of federalism and the semi-sovereignty of the states, said early on that he couldn’t unilaterally order the closure of the entire country, something the Democrats criticized him mightily for at the time.

Now, he’s saying it’s his decision, not the governors’, when and how to reopen the nation, something the Democrats are criticizing him mightily for now. As it happens, consortiums of governors, mostly Democrats, on both coasts are now coordinating regionally to plan their re-openings, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, says he’ll soon issue an executive order to “slowly, strategically, smartly, and safely” bring the Lone Star State back to life.

Bill of Rights

The most important issue to come out of all of this, though, concerns the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment guarantees, among other things, the free exercise of religion and the freedom of assembly. It doesn’t say, “except when.”

And yet, without debate or even much public concern, and largely without pushback, both of these protections have been summarily abrogated during the coronavirus crisis. Should we emerge from lockdown with the Bill of Rights effectively gutted, the CCP virus will have more grievously damaged the soul of the nation ever more than its body.

While it’s true that the Constitution specifically limits the scope of the federal government to its enumerated powers (stop laughing), jurisprudence has come to recognize that the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, are “incorporated” to the states as well, via the Fourteenth Amendment’s “due process” clause.

The states’ quarantine orders directly violate the First Amendment, so it would seem that in a country that had time to waste with the frivolous impeachment of a president on the basis of a “dossier” consisting in major part of Russian disinformation, civil libertarians and lawyers would be lining up to take governors such as Whitmer and Beshear to federal court.

Fortunately, someone finally has: The Center for American Liberty, under its CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon, filed a lawsuit on April 12 against Newsom and other California state officials for arbitrarily hindering the free expression of religion.

“Criminalizing individual participation at a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship clearly violates the First Amendment,” Dhillon said. “If a Californian is able to go to Costco or the local marijuana shop or liquor store and buy goods in a responsible, socially distanced manner, then he or she must be allowed to practice their faith using the same precautions.”

One might observe that the same is true of the right of assembly, especially for political reasons—the very definition of conventions and in-person elections. But that too is being threatened by the “progressive” notion that this fall’s vote might best be conducted by mail—an idea conservatives believe is an open invitation to voter fraud, especially given the Democrats’ penchant for miraculously finding heaps of unopened ballots that fell off a truck which somehow provide the margin of victory for their candidates in close elections.

If we want to have a national conversation as we emerge from our corona coma, the First Amendment should be the first thing we talk about. Because if we lose that, we might as well just stay at home.

Michael Walsh is the author of “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” and “The Fiery Angel,” both published by Encounter Books. His latest book, “Last Stands,” a cultural study of military history, will be published later this year by St. Martin’s Press. Follow him on Twitter @dkahanerules.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.