Regarding Milan Simonich’s column (“Rebel ousted from rural New Mexico school board hospitalized with COVID,” Ringside Seat, Aug. 26): It seems Jeff Essary, along with his fellow school board members, some other public servants and lots of ordinary citizens may have forgotten some old-school civics basics.
- Commonweal: That is, the public good; the common welfare of the nation or community; and/or the happiness, health and safety of all of the people of a community or nation. The concept of the commonweal has been the basis of our public health guidance, practices and regulation throughout our history. We can go back to when George Washington’s troops were getting the then-cutting-edge smallpox inoculation to stave off that ancient scourge and thereby help them stay in the fight against great odds. Some troops objected, but it was recognized that the Revolution was for the common good and that healthy troops were needed to fight for our independence.
- The difference of freedom of opinion and freedom of action (or inaction): The Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution “embraces two concepts — freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute, but in the nature of things, the second cannot be.” (See law.cornell.edu/constitution-conan/amendment-1/the-belief-conduct-distinction#fn273amd1.) You may believe it your right to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater, adulterate foodstuffs for sale or leave a loaded pistol in a kindergarten playground, but you do not have the right to perform those actions. Likewise, Essary and others do not have an inalienable right to endanger public health by failing to themselves take action, or blocking others from taking prudent and scientifically sound actions to protect schoolchildren from infection with dangerous diseases.
It used to be that when scientific advances gave us the means to prevent or counter the devastation of polio, measles or yellow fever, the vast majority of Americans recognized that utilizing those advances would best protect them, their children, their neighbors and other fellow citizens. Unfortunately, certain politicians and “news” outlets have cynically chosen to politicize basic health practices and resources to advance their own political and financial interests.
Now we have the tragedy of our limited medical resources and our health care providers being strained to the breaking point because far too many people have been persuaded by the aforementioned politicians and media moguls (many of whom are fully vaccinated) to act counter to their own best interests and those of the commonweal. They have, to our national, societal and personal misfortune, managed to forget they do not have freedom of action (or inaction) when their actions endanger the health, well-being and lives of their fellow citizens.
In brief, one’s freedoms have limits when how you decide to exercise those freedoms, be it via direct action or a disavowal of your responsibilities as a citizen or public official, endangers the lives and well-being of those who have to share public spaces with you. Get your vaccinations and mask up.