Liberty of Conscience

By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.

Recently, the Governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, Republican, issued a Mandate that read, “every individual within the State of Indiana shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth” Ind Ex Ord. What this means is what it says. At first, the Governor issued a criminal penalty for failure to comply; a Class B Misdemeanor. Attorney General Curtis Hill, along with others, pushed back. The Class B was dropped from the Executive Order. Hill’s reasoning, which is spot on: “Scientists tell us that wearing face masks is an effective means of helping prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” Hill said. β€œThe wisdom of wearing masks β€” or of laws requiring such measures β€” is not the issue here. Rather, the issue is whether we are following the proper and constitutional processes for enacting laws and whether we are respecting the distinct roles of each branch of state government.”

However, the Mandate is issued, and everyone is to comply. The pressure comes from the “Mask Up, Hoosiers!” campaign which can be basically summed up as follows: “wear a mask, or you might be the reason why grandma died.” Fear. Several fears, in fact.

Now, Eric Hill is not going to get into a lengthy debate concerning the usefulness of non-medical people wearing surgical garb, turning them into instant “experts” as to the “proper use” and “fitting” of masks. Several medical journals have written about this. Ole Indiana Joe pulls his mask out of his pocket, having worn it already for about a week (it’s the one that is crammed in to the dashboard drawer and pulled out when needed). Yeah, that’s what Doctors do, too, right? That mask is about as effective as wearing a piece of toilet paper with Scotch tape. But, that’s what I am seeing everyday.

You know, if you have those droplets, you do realize that they collect in that mask. When you take that mask off, wind hits it, not to mention you might have just placed this little .02 micron bugger on your finger, which just touched your nose, or scratched your ear (that’s another hole into your body). Doctors operate in sanitary conditions. Walmart is not a sanitary place when it comes to this stuff. Enter the mask. No, not the homemade ones, the N-95 Mask.

Now, reading article after article, and depending on who you are reading, the “experts” and the “scientists” say that wearing a mask does greatly reduce the risk of spread, provided that the one wearing the mask either, A. has the virus to spread, and B. has symptoms, or just goes into a coughing or sneezing jag. Now we are told that those who do not have symptoms “rarely” transmit the virus if they do have it. But, then we are told that is can be transmitted by the same – they had to adjust their original statement. Earlier in the year, Dr. Fauci himself said that masks were more or less ineffective. Now he says they are. Huh? I get it. As more “evidence” grows, things might “change” in terms of effectively battling the Wuhan Virus (thanks, China). And, in my previous blog, To Mask or Not to Mask, I made note that this is what “science” does: changes. We have witnessed this in the last six months. Facts are flying and “experts” are speaking. All of the sudden, Epidemiologists who no one has ever heard of are now speaking on all the media outlets as super stars.

I am not an Epidemiologist. But, I know how to read. I avoid crackpots. If you don’t have the proper degree and experience in your field, or the peer review and such, chances are I won’t listen to you. But, see, this is the problem: we are hearing conflicting evidence from those who are not crackpots. Now, if you simply spend your time reading only what CNN states, you are only getting one side. If you only watch those who FOX News trots out, you are only getting one side. The Wuhan Virus is not a hoax. It’s real, and it has killed a lot of people (we can discuss the “numbers” later). But, so does TB, AIDS, H1N1, and other spreadable human to human (HtH) viruses. Combined, these killers number quite a lot on a yearly basis. No one issues a Mandate for Condoms, however. Could you imagine that? “I notice you two are on a nice, lovely date tonight. You have your wine, and both of you are looking at each other in the eye with great expectations later on. Now, I need to see if you have a condom on you, please. This won’t take long. State Mandate.”

No. We don’t need a State Mandate. I do not need the Government telling me, ordering me to wear a mask without due reason. And this is the problem: I can provide studies from “experts” that show the ineffectiveness of masks. Is Corona Virus spread by aerosol or droplet (that’s a big debate)? Perhaps both. The effectiveness of masks loses even more power to catch droplets when it is constantly touched, taken off, put back on, etc. It’s not that they are not effective at all, but how effective? Second, what if you are not showing any symptoms? What if you don’t have it? Then there is nothing you are spreading. Of course, there is always the risk that you might have it and may spread it, provided that you weeze on someone standing inches away from them. Are handshakes allowed any more? Why would a handshake be frowned upon? Is this virus that transmissible that a hand shake might be your death? What if I touch an item, say, a box of cereal that Infected Mary just touched after she placed her finger under her mask to scratch her runny nose (while no one was looking)? Best stay inside. OH! Did you read the CDC report on using too much hand sanitizer can cause illness? Did you hear that some New York beaches have these things called, “sharks”?

Now, I am a religious person. My faith in God is my life. I eat, sleep and breath religion. My faith in God means that this God created this world way back in the beginning. It also means that, if I read the Bible correctly, this God is very much, very aware of every single particle, living or not. For example, when Francis Crick announced the “double helix” of dioxybonucleic acid (DNA), the world was introduced to a whole new way of looking at human biology. God wasn’t. He put it there when he made Woman and Man. Been there all along. Now, I don’t mind that someone may not agree with me here on my theological speculations. The Constitution – not that I need that for declaring human rights – grants me (rather, recognizes) that I am free to think such a claim. That no person can coerce me to think otherwise. And, we have “experts” – highly specialized scholars – both atheist and Christian that disagree. Matters not. The Government cannot tell me one way or the other. I am free to think what I want on this matter. Now, true, “science” these days heavily favors that we originated from accidental motion. So? I can equally utilize an arsenal of “scientists” – perhaps fewer in number, but trained in the same institutes of learning and granted the same Ph.D’s – that agree with me. I don’t do crack pots. I try to endeavor in being informed, well read, and over read – equally reading material that counters what I just read.

So, here’s the problem. I do not have symptoms, and I believe in a God that claims to hold the keys of death and the grave, who has appointed me a certain number of days on his earth, and who basically looks out after me, even if that means I get hit by a truck through no fault of my own other than I was driving a car. Sure, I take precautions, when convinced such precautions are absolutely necessary, but that’s my prerogative, not any State Official’s. I love my neighbor, too. But, I am not convinced in my mind, in my conscience, that putting on a weave of fibers around my mouth necessitates the conclusion that I hate my neighbor. The logic is horribly bad (non-sequitor).

For me, then, to comply with such a “mandate” with which I do not at all agree with, and with which I am not at all convinced will save me from certain death otherwise, or that I am going to cause your death if I fail to don a mask, goes against my being. Secondly, I do not agree that such a mandate is necessary, or that such a mandate can be “ordered” for “every individual” from the State. The State can educate, can campaign around “Mask Up!”, can inform, give us statistics and facts, and tell us “what they believe is warranted” to “protect yourself” during this Wuhan Pandemic. And, the citizens, upon informing themselves can act in accordance with their discernment. Businesses could do the same. They would refuse no customer wearing a mask. They would refuse no customer not wearing a mask. They would not encroach upon an employee’s right to pursue their own convinced and reasoned opinion, either, given the fact that there are various opinions out there that have credible arguments. Stalemate. What’s the solution? Liberty of Conscience of the Individual. We exercise this all the time over several matters concerning our lives, and what may, or may not be the possible cause of our deaths. The State is needed to tell me about my health while I pursue my life, peace, and happiness?

The situation in the last six months in this country has caused a profound raising of the issues in several fundamental levels. Constitutional issues. I have my own informed answer (anyone can visit my personal library and we can discuss them). I have a right to that answer, and to live according to that answer. When the State gets in the way of me living out that answer and tells me, “well, you can live that in your own home, but when you are out in public you live it Our Way”, then I have a gigantic, massive, personal violation of my conscience if I comply; effectively saying to the State, “I strongly disagree with you, but I’ll fold, bow and bend over. You hold the strings!” Nah. No thanks. Not for me. I bend enough. What bending I do I can tolerate. I am not bending further…..it’s starting to effect my health, and the health of millions of others. You can label us every name you want, but still have not proven beyond a shadow of my informed doubts that wearing a mask prevents my death, or the death of anyone else. I am not afraid of this virus. Call me crazy.

“Without a widespread belief,” writes William H. Goetzmann, “in individual natural rights, without an ingrained tradition of religious independence, there could have been no strong feelings about British encroachments on American liberties” (Beyond the Revolution, Perseus Books, 2009, p.32). That is, there would have been no Revolution without these feelings. How authority can dictate to certain issues that are, or should not be equally applied to individuals concerning their own pursuits in life (that is, health) was settled early in American thought. George Mason declared in the Virginia Constitution of 1776 that “religion, or the duty we owe our Creator, and the manner discharging it, can only be directed by reason and conviction, not by force, nor by violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise to religion, according to the dictates of conscience” (taken from The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation 1781-1789, Northwestern University Press, 1950 – 1981 reprint, Merrill Jensen). Jensen notes that the strength in liberty was that many ideas could each be argued in a rational, informed way so that many political opinions and religious differences could not produce universal assent in terms of convincing everyone. What was the solution? Liberty. “Many Americans”, he wrote, noting those who balked at the idea of pure liberty, “then as now have never accepted the idea that people’s minds should be and must be free” (p.134). This meant that many opinions would be – should be in competition with each other, and should be allowed to flourish in spite of their opposition to each other precisely because no State authority has the power to settle them one way or the other. If it is, then, my carefully informed opinion that wearing a mask will not at all benefit me, or benefit others around me if I did not wear one, and since this is based on my ultimate allegiance to God and conscience, and since it cannot be proven to me the effectiveness of me wearing a mask, the State has infringed on my Right. Wearing a mask may benefit you, and I say to you, wear that mask!

But, see, the State has claimed to have settled the matter once and for all: wear a mask and save a life. Period. No debate. No need for consent of the people. You are ordered. Well, I object. Section 201 (a) reads from the Civil Rights Act of 1964: “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” My conscience on this matter is informed by my religious views, deeply held, on matters concerning State and personal conduct as it regards my health. Section 202 states, “All persons shall be entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin, if such discrimination or segregation is or purports to be required by any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any agency or political subdivision thereof.”

While I am at it, for those employed, Title VII, defines “Religion” as, “The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” This leaves, as it should, the right of business owners to assess their own opinion as to what would constitute an “undue hardship,” in this case not wearing a mask.

Well, there you have it. Feel free to “interpret” it all you like. After all, that’s the country we live in.