Crossfire: “War” with COVID-19 initiates massive government overreach


   As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to send shockwaves of uncertainty and fear across the United States, it is reasonable to assume that a large majority of Americans will display behavior of self-preservation. This is evident in the number of citizens that are correctly practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and religiously washing their hands. Free people naturally act in ways to protect themselves, but they should not be bullied and coerced to act through the tyrannical whims of the state. This is, however, exactly what is happening. 

   While President Donald Trump has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency to unlock billions of dollars and to accelerate a response plan, this declaration and his “hands-off” approach has allowed many state and local officials to go far beyond their given power and authority. On April 16, President Trump unveiled his administration’s plan to ease the social distancing requirements and briefed the nation’s governors saying that they would be the ones responsible for deciding when it is safe to lift restrictions in their states. “You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told the governors. “We’re going to be standing alongside you.” While this federalist approach is meant to prevent overreach from the federal government, it has allowed the state and local governments to infringe on citizen’s rights instead. 

   For example, in the last month, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the state’s stay-at-home order by three weeks, choosing to not align the state with a federal agency’s revised list of critical infrastructure, which would have allowed thousands of Michiganders to return to work. The governor’s new order has been criticized by the public for being too restrictive and confusing. For example, people in Michigan can buy alcohol and lottery tickets in person but the order closes businesses that sell hardware supplies and gardening products. The order has also affected grocery stores and some departments, of which some have chosen to rope off sections of the store deemed “non-essential” to comply with Whitmer’s order. In response to the new order, a large protest broke out at the Michigan Capitol on Apr. 15 where protestors surrounded the building demanding an end to the stay-at-home order, claiming the measure infringes upon their personal liberties. Whitmer then said that the behavior displayed by the protestors was misguided and would only prolong the order further. “When you see a political rally… where people aren’t wearing masks and they’re in close quarters and they’re touching one another, you know that that’s precisely what makes this kind of disease drag out and expose more people,” said Whitmer. 

   In Greenville, Miss., churchgoers who attended a drive-in service on Apr. 9 at King James Bible Baptist Church were each fined $500 for reportedly violating a curfew order and stay-at-home order from Mayor Errik Simmons. Attorney Jeremy Dys, representing Pastor Charles Hamilton, claims that the local police were violating the church’s constitutional rights. “They park in their parking spaces, they keep their windows up, the doors closed, they never get out of the cars like the CDC recommends they do.” said Dys. But King James Bible Baptist Church was not the only Greenville church to be harassed by local law enforcement. Temple Baptist Church, located less than ten minutes from King James Bible Baptist Church, was also targeted. “The police started coming up to our windows and we said, ‘we think we’re within our rights.’ So they started issuing tickets, five hundred dollar tickets.” said Lee Gordon with Temple Baptist Church. “It may have been twenty or thirty tickets. Everybody got one. It wasn’t per car. Me and my wife were in a car together and both of us got tickets.”

   To me, it makes sense for places like New York, California, and Washington to ban large, avoidable gatherings and events but it is an extreme abuse of power to issue ultra-strict stay-at-home orders, enforced by criminal law, and empowering law enforcement to harass individuals for nothing more than attending a socially distanced Holy Week church service or simply taking a walk.