Arkansas Governor’s Face Covering Mandate

October 25, 2020 Updated: October 25, 2020

Arkansas is one of the states that has enacted a face-covering mandate through executive action by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

I voted for Governor Hutchinson during both terms, I have mostly been pleased with Governor Hutchinson’s leadership, and I even thanked Governor Hutchinson for his response concerning the coronavirus.

With that said, I am concerned about the general legalities of how the mandate was put into place and the potential dangerous legal precedence caused by the mandate. Governor Hutchinson did not allow the legislature to be called into session to discuss and debate such a mandate. The legislature was not allowed to ask for feedback from their constituents nor granted the option to work on such a mandate through the legislative process. Furthermore, Governor Hutchinson attached criminal penalties to a mandate through executive action. This is a clear disregard for our separation of powers, as well as legislation with criminal penalties by way of executive action. He also failed to place a firm end date on the mandate, leaving an open-ended “when the emergency ends” timeframe.

The most alarming concern I have with Governor Hutchinson’s mandate is the wording of the mandate and the dangerous legal precedent it has the potential to cause. Governor Hutchinson has stated he has placed the mandate in effect due to it being the current “tool” in which Arkansas can combat the coronavirus. If Governor Hutchinson continues to keep this mandate in effect, it would give Governor Hutchinson or a future governor the ability to put another coronavirus mandate in place such as a mandate forcing all citizens of Arkansas to take the coronavirus vaccine once developed. After listening intently to Governor Hutchinson’s language used to enforce the face-covering mandate, there is nothing that would prevent a similar mandate on a vaccine from going into effect should Governor Hutchinson or another future governor decide to enact one.

Regardless of one’s position on face coverings in public, this is a civil liberties matter with regard to the face-covering mandate enacted by Governor Hutchinson. This mandate needs to be legally challenged quickly, and there should also be some form of pushback from the Arkansas state legislature due to the actions Governor Hutchinson has taken with how he placed such a mandate into effect. A censure against Governor Hutchinson for his recent actions by not allowing the Arkansas legislature a voice in this matter is a reasonable action the Arkansas legislature should be taking against Governor Hutchinson, and it should pass with bipartisan support. We should live in freedom, not under Fascism. We should live in liberty, not under tyranny. We are not living under a totalitarian dictatorship. Our governor can and should fight the coronavirus, and if he wants to make health care recommendations and encourage certain health care behaviors, that is necessary and proper. However, he must respect the separation of powers and our Arkansas state legislature, and he cannot attach criminal penalties with legislation by executive action and go unchallenged.

Nathan Parker

Ph.D. student, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary