Seat belts, motorcycle helmets, cigarettes, face masks… It’s not too often that our legislative bodies use science and data to fuel their decision-making processes. But when they do, people are bound to get upset about it. “It’s my right to risk my own health,” you’ll hear. But that doesn’t make seat belts any less effective, or enforcing their usage under threat of the law less right.
Recently, masks have been the face of the “individual rights” discussion due to the Coronavirus’ appearance in the states. It’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of outrage on the topic, especially with mandates in Lakeland and Winter Haven expiring. Many people wonder, “isn’t the law on my side?” after putting their face masks on before entering a public place.
That’s a good question: Is the law on your side if you choose not to wear a mask in public? Can you reserve the right to not participate in mask-wearing? Well, it depends.
Face Mask Mandates and Private Business
Frontier Airlines never fails to catch national news’ eye with their antics. In June they visited headlines again after forcibly removing a passenger from a flight for refusing to wear a mask. This was the first of many similar cases of airlines seriously enforcing their individual mask rules. Spirit Airlines followed suit in removing a passenger for the same reasons not even a month later.
These actions didn’t cost these companies a fortune in lawsuits–they didn’t cost them anything at all, actually. Private institutions have the right to enforce conduct rules as they please, give or take. So, there were no legal grounds upon which upset consumers could sue the airlines for their conduct. After all, we do operate on a primarily capitalist foundation here in America. If you don’t like a private organization’s rules or operations, you’re free to choose a new provider. At least, that’s the idea, but recent mandates have gone beyond the private business sector. Why is that?
When the pandemic first started, many businesses took it upon themselves to enforce health policies for their guests and staff. These often took the form of mask requirements and social distance requests. Unfortunately, public reaction quickly slowed their approach and many businesses were left with a lose-lose decision. Either protect the health of their local public or preserve their name.
Businesses began outsourcing the issue to their local government. This put pressure on lawmakers to release health and safety mandates at a higher level than the business. That way owners could say “if you have a problem with the rules, take it up with the mayor.” This influenced the government to take the matter into their own hands and release mandates to protect public health. In short, this is why masks are “to be worn in public.”
Are Mask Mandates against the Constitution?
Short answer: no.
We all get it: masks are no fun. They’re itchy and uncomfortable, they aren’t very attractive, and they’re just another thing that makes life a little more complicated. There’s no telling how many times a week we forget our masks in the car—or worse, at the house—when we arrive at our destinations. It may seem wrong for public service institutions, such as local government, to enforce mask-wearing mandates. But those mask rules fall under the same Constitutional provisions of promoting public health as seatbelts and motorcycle helmets.
What Can I Do?
There’s an old saying, “your right to swing your fist ends when it hits my face.” Now, whether you believe or not that COVID-19 is a global health threat, or whether or not masks are an effective countermeasure, is unimportant. The fact of the matter is that the preservation of public health is the primary interest in legislation such as mask mandates.
That doesn’t mean that someone who disagrees with such legislation is without grounds for action, however. There are many ways to voice your opinions and act on your beliefs (especially in the state of Florida, given Governor DeSantis’ most recent decisions) or avoid wearing masks as often. You could:
- Attend public hearings at local municipal buildings and speak (a foundation of our great democracy)
- Choose to patronize businesses with less demanding mask requirements
- Write to local legislators and express your opinions
The beauty of the American way lies in its ability to equip citizens with the tools necessary for freedoms of choice, and the ability to freely express all of our feelings about the government and its decisions to that very government. That will never change, even with the requests and requirements to maintain social distancing practices and mask-wearing habits. The spirit of our democracy is the light that shines atop the hill of mask mandates, and it will never burn out.
Brooks Law Group is here to help you understand the law. Whether you’re pursuing a lawsuit or not, it’s important that you know what our laws mean. Our attorneys are here to give you their legal knowledge and help in your time of need. If you or a loved one has been injured, contact us today at 1-800-LAW-3030.