In one of those phone calls that are a lot more common these days, a friend in Tulsa said her 20-something son tested positive for the virus. I expressed my concern and encouraged my friend to take precautions to protect herself.
Her response was a surprise: “I am 61 and asthmatic. I would willingly die of COVID if it meant my children and grandchildren would have the civil liberties I have.” Huh? What does “stay safe, my friend” have to do with civil liberties? And wait a minute: Aren’t we mixing up our news stories? The civil liberties story is Black Lives Matter, right? Do both stories have a healthy civil liberties base?
My dad fought in World War II and Korea and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard. My son and son-in-law both have law enforcement careers. I grew up just down the block from my friend. I have a healthy respect for civil liberties, too. I obviously needed another look at the Bill of Rights. Let’s see: freedom of speech, right to assemble, government can’t establish a religion or prohibit the exercise of religion. Right to a trial, can’t take private property for public use without compensation, right to bear arms. They’re all still in there, along with a lot more. Maybe the "take care of yourself" thing is in the Constitution itself.
Hmm. "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…" The rest establishes the three branches of government, what powers they have, and interactions between the three. Where is that “my rights end where your rights begin” thing? Doing some research, it is actually a series of quotes that are a variation on, “My right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins,” which has been attributed to various politicians, writers, and speakers.
I guess we all have a right to breathe comfortably without a mask. There is no mention of masks anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It may be assumed in the “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” But we shouldn’t ignore the “promote the general welfare” piece that comes right before that.
If you consider caring for your own health and that of your friends and family to be an infringement on your civil liberties, that is your right. We all get to believe different things. There is nothing constitutional that says you should care about others. That’s probably in the religion piece, which is a whole discussion for some other time.
In the meanwhile, on June 1, we were at 29 positive cases in Cherokee County. Yesterday, we were at 50. Stay safe, my friends.
Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.