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Nate Jackson / August 31, 2021

Civil Rights and Mask Mandates

Apparently, it’s now a “civil right” to force students to wear masks in school.

If you don’t want the government to mandate that you or your children wear a mask, you might be a terrorist who’s violating people’s civil rights. That’s the message coming from the Biden administration and other Democrats. Does anyone still wonder why masks feel political?

President Joe Biden has weaponized the Department of Education, saying earlier this month, “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.” By “protecting” he means forcing kids to wear a mask.

He has therefore directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to launch civil rights probes in five states — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah — and Florida and Texas are next. Republican governors in those states had the gall to ban school mask mandates. They didn’t ban masks, mind you. They banned mandates. And for that, they’re being treated like … well, racist Democrats of the 1950s.

To be fair, the actual “violation” the Education Department is investigating is not racial, but it is two-fold: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“The Department has heard from parents from across the country — particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions,” Cardona explained. These parents, he says, are concerned “about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally.”

Did anyone at the DOE ask about the harm done to children by mask mandates? What about the loss of facial recognition in communication, particularly for the hearing disabled? What about the difficulty breathing for those with asthma, or the additional impediment to concentrating for those with ADHD? What about their civil rights?

Those are rhetorical questions. A civil rights violation comes about because of some kind of provable discrimination against certain individuals or groups. The efficacy of masks is a public policy debate, not a question of animus toward anyone.

Besides, if one governor can mandate masks, issue stay-at-home orders for “nonessential” workers, and even debate about vaccine requirements, why can’t another governor issue an order banning such mandates?

Masking ought to be decided as locally as possible, where regular people have the most say. And between the two government policies — mandates or mandate bans — the one-size-fits-all mandate approach is the problem, not the one that allows for individual freedom of choice.

“It’s simply unacceptable,” lectured Cardona, “that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve.” We have a fundamental difference of opinion on which state leaders are doing that. And it’s evident in the next sentence of Cardona’s press release: “The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”

Which party generally kept students out of the classroom the longest? Which party’s union bosses clamored loudest to keep schools closed?

We mentioned the word “terrorist” above, and that’s because Cardona’s comments were mild compared to his Obama administration predecessor, Arne Duncan. “Have you noticed how strikingly similar both the mindsets and actions are between the suicide bombers at Kabul’s airport, and the anti-mask and anti-vax people here?” Duncan opined. “They both blow themselves up, inflict harm on those around them, and are convinced they are fighting for freedom.”

It’s hard to imagine more disgraceful comments. In one fell swoop, Duncan manages to denigrate the lives of the 13 Americans killed because of Biden’s Afghanistan blunder, as well as the millions of Americans who are simply tired of being told what to do by statist know-it-alls.

The science certainly isn’t settled on whether any of our public policy approach to COVID has been successful. In fact, the picture is so politically blurred that no one can stake a claim to much of anything. But we’re obviously long past the stage where the response to the coronavirus pandemic had anything to do with science or health. It mostly has to do with the exercise of raw political power.

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