Curfews and bans don't make us safer
In their haste to contain the coronavirus, public officials are trampling on civil liberties.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's March 14 executive order prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people. It includes exemptions for libraries and shopping malls, but churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship were conspicuously left off the list.
Violating the order is a Class 2 misdemeanor. It's hard to imagine police swarming a Sunday morning service and arresting parishioners. Good thing, too, because legal scholars say the executive order would be swiftly overturned if that were to transpire. Churches have more constitutional clout than malls.
"Limiting crowd size is one thing, but closing down expressive institutions would be another," explains Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University. "Government can't shut down churches and I don't believe they have the right to completely shut down movie theaters or bookstores."
The city of San Francisco and six Bay Area counties have enacted "shelter in place" orders that prohibit nonessential travel. People are allowed to shop for groceries and pick up their prescriptions from the pharmacy -- and not much else.
While the orders don't require government permission to leave home, they direct police and sheriff's deputies to "ensure compliance" and include the threat of misdemeanor charges.
A San Francisco Chronicle story called the orders "the strictest measure of its kind yet in the continental United States." But the Illinois city of Champaign might give the Bay Area a run for its money.
The Champaign City Council approved an ordinance granting emergency powers to the mayor and city manager. At their whim, these executives could declare a mandatory curfew, require businesses to close, prohibit the sale of guns and ammunition, shut off public utilities and even seize private property.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have ordered bars to close and are discouraging nighttime travel. Overnight curfews have been established in Portland, Maine, Columbia, South Carolina and the Atlanta suburb of North Fulton, Georgia.
Free speech lawyer Ari Cohn says curfews probably wouldn't survive federal court challenges.