Other’s opinion: Refusing to follow mask laws not a free speech issue – Austin Daily Herald

Other’s opinion: Refusing to follow mask laws not a free speech issue

Published 5:18 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

— Mankato Free Press. February 12, 2024

We are big, bold boosters of free speech, and that speech indeed could be heard through masks during the COVID pandemic.

Fortunately, a recent federal appeals court ruling reflects that stance. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in two related cases in New Jersey stemming from lawsuits where plaintiffs said school boards retaliated against them because they refused to wear masks during public meetings.

Four years after the pandemic reared its ugly head in this country, we all remember the controversial struggles over pandemic laws that were put in place to make public health the top priority. That meant mask mandates in many states and communities. New Jersey was no different, and at least two members of the public refused to wear masks at school board meetings and were eventually cited for trespassing. They’d broken the law.

The appeals court that heard those two cases reasoned that refusing to recognize the mask requirement during a public health emergency didn’t amount to free speech. The court equated it to refusing to pay taxes based on the belief that taxes are theft or not wearing a motorcycle helmet as a symbolic protest against a state law requiring them. You can voice your objection and refuse to follow the requirements, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t breaking the law.

School board members and officials were vilified across the country as they tried to make decisions to best educate students and keep them and staff protected from illness during an unprecedented public health crisis. Parents and other members of the public had every right to weigh in — but not illegally so.

At this point, many people just want to put the pandemic behind them and all of the angst that went with it. However, there was much to be learned from what we went through, including recognizing the difference between an opinion and a constitutional right.

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