I am not saying that face coverings should be worn nor am I saying that face coverings should not be worn; I am saying that governments must not compel it. You see, while I am a stalwart libertarian, I am also a pentecostal Christian. I contend that such mandates go against my sincere religious beliefs.
Yes, medicine is one of several channels by which God brings healing to humankind, but government edicts are not. At this time, medicine has no curative or preventative power over this plague and pestilence. My religious beliefs therefore dictate that I be governed by faith, not fear. It is human nature to attack the unknown and to contain a combatant, but faith requires a surrender of that mentality.
I am commanded to “live by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7) where “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). A face covering is a visible object and a visible act. Face coverings say ‘I am doing my part to save us’ and ‘we can collectively save ourselves,’ both of which are very dangerous postures that exalt mortals to equality with God. The very core of Christian doctrine is that humanity is incapable of saving itself—both cognitively and morally. It follows that if one believes in an omnipotent deity, then it is the height of hubris to think that any mortal can act in any way to aid or assist that deity. Indeed, by faith, David refused King Saul’s order to gear-up to face Goliath and Gideon, by faith, obeyed God’s order to gear-down to defeat the Midianites (I Sam 17:38-39; Judges 7:4). The government cannot compel me to wear armor on my body, so how the government compel me to wear armor on my face? Each is just as arbitrary as the other, but both violate my concept of faith. The government cannot compel Muslims to reverence the flag contrary to Islamic teaching, so neither should the government compel me to pledge my alliegance to a mask contrary to Pentecostal faith. I live, thrive, languish, and die according to God’s will and human efforts have no capacity to frustrate or to further the decrees of Heaven. The Apostle Paul, after surviving shipwreck, was bitten by a deadly viper. Paul shook the serpent from his hand into the fire without worry or fear because no earthly event held the power to alter Heaven’s decree (Act 27:21-28:6).
Yes, I get anxious at the post office and in the supermarket, yet I remind myself to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let [my] requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Faith is a 24×7 engagement which is why we are told to pray “this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Exceptions for attendance of religious services are meaningless because those secular articulations fail to grasp the distinction between the practice of faith and the exercise of faith. Communal worship services are practices of faith. Daily life is the exercise of faith. The incessancy of daily faith is lived more subtly as the uninterrupted belief in God, as the belief in the redemption of a damnable soul, as vows of poverty, as missionary subsistence, and as prayerful supplications for miraculous interventions in human affairs. The exercise of faith should be unceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17) in and apart from its weekly memorialization (Hebrews 10:25). Putting worthless cloth on my face is a diminution of my continuous exercise of faith and it is an act which is contrary to my position of faith—faith which is further informed by the Psalms of King David:
- Psalm 20:7
- Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
- Psalm 121:1
- I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
- Psalm 46:1
- God is our refuge and strength, a[n] ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.
- Psalm 27:8
- The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped
Just as Psalm 20:7 says some trust in chariots and some in horses, I will say some trust in masks, some trust in social distance, but I will trust in my God.
I am not unsympathetic to the arguments of Father James Martin, S.J. that mitigation efforts are a form of charitable love. That said, I find myself persuaded more by the “sound mind” qualifier of II Timothy 1:7 (“God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”). The weft and warp of woven fabric is, at best, a spit-filter and, at worst, a placebo. So I ask, what is the difference between placebo and faith? Are not both “irrational” beliefs in their own way? Placebo faith says a piece of cloth which cannot even filter the odor of tobacco will somehow filter a viral capsid from one’s exhalations. Pentecostal faith says that the God who masterfully assembled my carbon atoms understands how to guard me from the chaotically evolved carbon atoms in a virus. No, I would not cavalierly endanger my neighbor, but if my faith defeats infection, then I have no infection to spread to my neighbor. Just as one might take offense from the exercise of vile and irredeemable speech, that speech must still be protected. My exercise of faith might offend, but it must be upheld. These are the costs of American liberty! The same federal courts which guard speech also ratify religious abstinence from government-mandated vaccinations. There can be no distinction between the public-health reasoning of vaccination and the public-health reasoning of masking; if the first may be excepted, then so must the second.
Government and corporate edicts without clear religious exception are restraints of my faith. They intrinsically declare that my faith is inferior to the beliefs and opinions of government actors—“expert” or otherwise—and the Constitution expressly prohibits the government from interference with cognizable religion. Indeed, a niqab prohibition contrary to Salafi faith is indistinguishable from a mask requirement contrary to Pentecostal faith. Where conflicts arise between religion and policy, religion must prevail (which is why, of all the rights and protections deemed crucial to democracy, speech and religion were articulated first). The government could never lawfully prohibit religious head and face covering in the name of public safety, so neither may the government lawfully compel anti-apostolic head and face coverings in the name of public health.
State and local orders are symptomatic of the country’s madness. Private enterprise is being back-door deputized and compelled to enforce orders and ordinances under threats of fine or business license. Such orders force private businesses and persons to do that which the government cannot itself do as matters of practicality and lawfulness. The right of businesses to refuse service to any person, or to condition service upon any requirement, exists only to the extent that the refusal or condition is not discriminatory or adverse to a protected class. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court holds in Marsh v. Alabama (1946) that “ownership does not always mean absolute dominion[ and t]he more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it.” Lip service to local law is no excuse to disregard federal law. Moreover, where private businesses transgress federal law in the name of local government, do they do so expecting local government to absorb costs of litigation? Hardly.
It would not be an unfounded criticism that I have picked and chosen scripture to support my position so everyone is invited to enter a rebuttal below. No genuine discourse will be censored. Apart from religion, however, there are other substantial legal issues unrecognized by local orders. Every person has a superior federal protection against involuntary disclosure of their protected health information which might be demanded of an unmasked person by shopkeepers or police. Requirements that all persons wear face coverings except those with medical conditions or disabilities subject such persons to public stigmatization. When all persons are required to cover their faces except those with medical conditions, there is a singling-out, an inverse identification, and a negative branding of persons with disabilities. If face covering signals the absence of a medical condition or disability, those who do not wear face covering may be presumed ill, infirm, or disabled, and perhaps even subjected to dissimilar treatment for fear of greater susceptibility and, therefore, greater transmissibility. All of these scenarios violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Apart from this, who can be the arbiter of medical conditions? Does severe claustrophobia qualify? Does the PTSD of one who was once abducted and gagged qualify? I cannot imagine that anyone would declare these invalid conditions. I also cannot imagine that anyone wants to dismissively trigger that person’s trauma. These hypotheticals simply reinforce the position that face covering must be voluntary, not compulsory.
The present postures of governments create erosive and corrosive precedents. Where local governments point to CDC and WHO recommendations to justify mandates, these same agencies also suggest that men shave their beards. The military forbids beards and requires daily shaving so that its M50 field respirators (“gas mask”) seal adequately. For these reasons will the government next require that all men be clean shaven under their face diapers? And when the next epidemic comes—and it will come and it will be worse—will the government, looking back at the precedents enacted today, go further still to declare that all hairstyles be limited to collar length? Will different standards be imposed for men and women? Will men be required to shave their heads as well as their faces? And then still, what of clothing? Will governments require all persons to wear spandex on the suspicion that loose clothing risks collecting and distributing pathogens in the same manner that bees spread pollen among plants? In all of these predictable instances, religion is an absolute problem. Islam and Sikhism have very specific teachings on beards; various Judaic and Christian denominations have very specific requirements on hair; and all Abrahamic faiths have very specific teachings on modesty. If governments do not today fully incorporate religious exceptions—and if citizens today sacrifice the First Amendment on the altar of fear—a precedent will emerge that subordinates democratic liberty to government autocracy. When religion is plowed under, free speech will follow. The government will be able to outlaw speech that questions its autocratic proclamations of public welfare. It will be too late to tell the government ‘enough is enough, this far, no further!‘
It would seem that only Governor Kemp of Georgia had the awareness and the stridency to understand the precedential peril of this government overreach.