By Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
From federal flight restrictions, to shelter-in-place orders, to continued calls for social distancing, the government has taken unprecedented steps to help our nation overcome an unprecedented health crisis. The government has a crucial role to play as we work together to combat the novel coronavirus. But elected officials must never forget that we are a free people.
Free people aren’t arrested under the guise of protecting public health for playing catch with their children in a nearly empty park. Yet that’s what happened to a man in Colorado who was playing softball with his 6-year-old daughter.
Free people don’t receive $227 tickets for driving alone in their cars. But that’s what happened to a woman in Pennsylvania, even though her actions jeopardized absolutely nobody’s health.
State and local officials across the country, most of the left, are using the crisis to unleash their inner authoritarians; their command-and-control instincts have been on full display.
Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has long admired left-wing authoritarians like Che Guevara — threatened religious leaders that their churches, synagogues, mosques and temples would be shuttered “permanently” if they continue to meet for services. Permanently. Really.
In Louisville, Ky., and Greenville, Miss., Democratic mayors fought to stop individuals from attending church for Lenten and Easter services, even if they remained in their cars to worship. A court halted the Louisville effort, but Greenville police issued $500 tickets to parishioners attending a drive-through service last Wednesday.
These are flagrant abuses of power. While cities have the authority to prevent large gatherings during a pandemic, they can’t permanently ban faith communities. And while public health may require a city to prohibit in-person gatherings, it is an absurdity to apply that ban to First Amendment-protected drive-through church services.
Some officials even have the audacity to use this crisis as a thin excuse to grind old political axes.
In Charlotte, NC, pro-life pregnancy counselors were arrested under the guise of “public health.” These counselors — trained to counsel women on alternatives to abortion as part of a federally recognized charity — were outdoors and safely practicing social distancing. But in the eyes of the left, they were criminals.
Tellingly, authorities treated abortion clinic workers completely differently. Despite the fact that they were working in confined spaces and in close contact with one another to perform elective procedures, the abortionists weren’t arrested. They were deemed “essential.”
But if elective abortion is essential, then peacefully providing counseling to pregnant women on alternatives to abortion must be essential, as well. Anything less is a plainly unconstitutional double standard.
This crisis has shown us the character of the American people. We have seen that Americans of all walks of life are ready and willing to make sacrifices for the public good, to help stop the spread of this virus.
But it has also shown us the character of too many Democratic elected officials, who are using this crisis to subvert the Bill of Rights and rob us of our freedoms.
Stay-at-home orders must not become tools for opportunistic authoritarians. To be constitutional, these orders must be narrowly tailored to restrain only those activities that pose a significant risk to the public health.
I hope that state and local officials will rectify the profoundly destructive, unconstitutional effects of their mandates. We can and must protect ourselves against disease — we shouldn’t have to protect ourselves against tyranny, as well.
Ted Cruz is a US senator from Texas.