In his first week as President of the United States, Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring mask-wearing on federal properties. Anticipating this action Republican Congressman from Texas, Charles Eugene “Chip” Roy wrote on Twitter, “On day one, I will tell you to kiss my ass.”
In case you are not familiar with Mr. Roy, let me remind you of some of his previous moments in the spotlight.
He was the sole member of the House of Representatives to raise procedural objections which delayed unanimous consent for the passage of the $19.1 billion disaster aid package for damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. He was condemned by both Republicans and Democrats for his behavior.
This is also the same Mr. Roy who attacked the state of Maine for trying to enforce mask-wearing in the following way: “This isn’t a police state, this isn’t Nazi Germany, this isn’t Russia, we aren’t going to do that.” He was similarly roundly condemned for equating public health efforts to the behavior of Nazis.
Rights and Duties
We wear masks to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19. It is an act of community responsibility. Governments mandate mask-wearing because they have a compelling interest in reducing death and disability from infection. It is not substantially different from governments mandating that children be vaccinated to attend public schools or requiring me, as a physician, to report certain infectious diseases to public health authorities for contract tracing and data collection.
To act otherwise under the pretense that a person has “an individual right” to do what they want, when they want, and where they want to do it, demonstrates no concern for the health and safety or others. It is, simply, selfish.
Mr. Roy’s selfishness, vulgarity, and his references to totalitarianism reflect a combination of bad manners and a profound misunderstanding of the US Constitution and the values upon which it is based. In a democracy, we each have a combination of individual rights as well as duties. The US Constitution protects individual rights and limits government interference in our lives, but the core principle of government is to defend citizens against threats — including preventable diseases.
I have a right to freedom of speech, but I can’t falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theater or incite a mob to violently attack the US Capitol.
I have a right to freedom of movement, but I can’t drive my car on the wrong side of the road because it amuses me to do so; nor can I run a red light because I think that traffic laws are equivalent to “a police state.”
I have a right to use my private property as I wish, but I can’t do things on my property that endanger the health and safety of my neighbors or violate town zoning laws.
I have a right not to wear a mask when I am alone inside my house. In the middle of a pandemic when I go into a public place, however, I need to wear a mask.
It’s always a matter of balancing rights with duties. When law school graduates stand up to receive their diplomas, it is common for a university’s president to quote Professor John MacArthur Maguire (1888-1978): “You are ready to aid in the shaping and application of those wise restraints that make men free.” Mr. Roy says he went to law school; maybe he missed that class.
After a year of magical thinking by former President Donald Trump, we now have a president who respects science and sound public health measures to combat the pandemic. For that, we should all be grateful.
As for Mr. Roy’s selfish response concerning what President Biden can kiss, an expression attributed to President Harry Truman seems apt for Mr. Roy: “He has entered the public debate on this subject like Samson in the Bible, with the jawbone of an ass.”Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.