Face Masks and the Constitution

by | Mar 15, 2021 | Quick Facts, Money and Politics

Face Masks and the Constitution

by | Mar 15, 2021 | Quick Facts, Money and Politics

Misinformation: The U.S. Constitution gives me the right not to wear a face covering in a store.

Information: It’s certainly true that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t tell you that you have to wear a face mask, or for that matter that you should avoid doing harm to your fellow citizens in a wide variety of ways. That’s not at all the same thing as giving you the right to disobey state and local laws and directives on the matter.

There are lots of things that the U.S. Constitution does not expressly forbid, including grand theft auto and murder. Per Article 10, the Constitution leaves it to individual states to establish and enforce laws related to such acts.

That’s not to say that the federal government has no responsibility for citizen welfare. As the preamble says, part of the purpose of the Constitution is to “promote the general welfare.” And the Declaration of Independence, though it does not have the force of law, makes it clear that the Founders believed that one purpose of government is to secure the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That’s why some acts, such as hate crimes, rise to the level of federal law.

Still, a lot of the details regarding how citizens are protected from other citizens are left to state and local governments. My county (Los Angeles County) has made it mandatory for both employees and customers to wear face masks while engaging in commerce in a retail business. For which I’m grateful, for the following mathematical reasons.

The prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in LA County human bodies, per a recent USC study, is between 2.5% and 7%. Let’s call it 5%–1 out of 20. If 1 out of 20 people have been infected, then it seems to me to be not an unreasonable estimate that at least 1 out of 100 are currently infected. Which means that the chance that I will run into an infected person in my minimal outings (buying groceries, shipping packages, and exercise walks in local parks and gardens) is perhaps 50/50 in any given week. I live with someone who’s vulnerable, so it’s extremely important to me to keep the chances of my own infection very low—no higher than 1 in 1,000.

With all of that in mind, I very much appreciate the fact that my county government takes its responsibility for citizen welfare seriously by requiring that people wear face coverings. And my personal opinion is that Franklin, Washington, Hamilton and Jefferson would all heartily approve of such common sense.

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