Virginia Democrat Says ‘Forced Masking’ in Schools Violates First Amendment, Plans to Vote to End It

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
February 8, 2022Updated: February 8, 2022

A Virginia senator is promising to help pass a law barring school districts from compelling students to wear masks, asserting “forced masking” violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Virginia Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, a Democrat, said in a missive obtained by The Epoch Times that he plans to ask Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, to send down special legislation or amend existing legislation to end “the forced masking of children.”

“We will pass that with a bipartisan majority and this sad episode will finally end,” he said.

The Feb. 7 missive was sent to Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent Scott Brabrand.

Officials in Fairfax and multiple other school districts in the state have fought against Youngkin’s executive order prohibiting school mask mandates and on Feb. 4 won a temporary injunction against the order.

“Universal mask wearing has been a critical safety measure throughout the pandemic, especially during this most recent surge. We are committed to providing all students safe and in-person instruction. We believe that in order to do so, masks and our other layered prevention strategies must remain in place for now,” the district said in a statement after the ruling.

Petersen took offense to the announcement, questioning the claim that mask-wearing has been critical for safety.

Petersen said that he is unaware of any scientific basis for forcing children to wear masks and pointed to states with school mask mandates like New York having similar health outcomes to states like Florida with no mandates.

Epoch Times Photo
Virginia Sen. J. Chapman Petersen. (Virginia General Assembly)

“After a year, the data on student masking is easily found and it is overwhelming: the forced masking of school children has no correlation with community health,” Petersen said.

Many health experts now say mask mandates shouldn’t be in place, particularly in schools, and the governors of New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut on Feb. 7 announced plans to lift school masking requirements.

While Fairfax officials claimed their mask mandate is largely supported by parents and teachers, Petersen said he was skeptical because he’s been contacted by many parents and staffers in recent weeks “who want to speak out against forced child masking but are afraid of the consequences.”

Petersen said he sees the decision to wear a mask as a political decision since there is little data to back the choice, and that therefore Brabrand’s mask mandate violates the Constitution.

“In other words, by wearing a mask in a public setting, the wearer is able to communicate a political message, e.g. ‘I care about others’ or ‘I voted for Biden’ or even ‘I’m vaccinated,'” the senator wrote. “The ability to communicate a political message is the essence of our First Amendment, but coercing others into adopting that statement, especially a student in a public school, is the exact opposite. For this reason, your argument that ‘forced masking is popular’ is the very reason why this policy must end. You are forcing children to make a politcal statement that they (and their parents) may not believe. That violates the First Amendment.”

Virginia lawmakers stopped schools from closing in 2021 with the passage of Senate Bill 1303, needing to stop in “because school districts were failing to do the right thing for children,” the senator said, before pledging to likewise end mask mandates in schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the office of Youngkin.

Petersen’s support for legislation barring school mask mandates is significant because, throughout the pandemic, Democrats have largely supported enacting or continuing such restrictions, and because the senator is a key swing vote in Virginia’s Senate.

If all Republicans and Petersen vote for a bill, and the rest of the Democrats vote against it, the 20–20 tie could be broken by Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, a Republican who serves as president of the chamber.

Republicans also control the Virginia House of Delegates.

Related Topics