Republicans Touting Freedom of Speech is a Red Herring

Public health experts worldwide have offered explicit warnings against large public gatherings, especially indoors. In those environments, the same experts insist upon two basic mitigation measures; as much distance as possible between people and wearing decently fitted masks covering the mouth and nose.

White House Mask Recommendation

A well attended rally at an indoor venue would obviously make social distancing impossible, yet nothing would prevent nearly every attendee from wearing a mask.

Even basic mitigation of the dangers of COVID-19 virus transmission at two campaign events hosted recently by the Trump campaign were completely ignored. Social distancing was discouraged and very few attendees or speakers bothered to wear a mask.

White House Coronavirus Task Force Offers Advice

A world record number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are here in the United States. As new records are now being broken, the White House Coronavirus Task Force held a press event Thursday (June 26) at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The leader of that task force, vice president Mike Pence, was pointedly asked about his campaign sponsoring two large indoor events (in Tulsa and Phoenix) despite the cautionary advice of his own task force.

Pence responded

“The freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, and we have an election coming up this fall… We still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process, and we respect that.”

Pence insisted Americans have the right to choose to exercise their free speech and continued to state they should keep in mind official guidelines and local case rates.

Yet, his campaign staff not only refused to comply, they removed rudimentary warnings already put in place at one venue.

BOK Arena Social Distancing Discouraged by Trump Campaign

The famously poorly attended Trump rally in Tulsa was held at the BOK Arena Saturday, June 20.

Prior to the event, BOK Arena staff were photographed placing “Do Not Sit Here” stickers on every other seat in the arena in an attempt to have attendees with one empty seat between them. Click here for the video in the Washington Post article if you have access. If you don’t, please believe it’s very obviously correct.

ASM Global, the arena management firm, was reportedly following the company’s new “VenueShield” program designed to prevent the spread of the virus at the 325 venues the firm manages worldwide, one component of which is encouraging social distancing in this fashion.

Yet, the Billboard article quotes ASM Executive VP Doug Thornton as saying “…they (the Trump campaign) also told us that they didn’t want any signs posted saying we should social distance in the venue.”

That’s not any sort of “First Amendment” or “peaceful assembly”argument from the Trump campaign and it spotlights the disingenuous argument the Republican party has agreed upon as the answer to stick to when replying to the inevitable questions from reporters.

It’s very obviously behavior to placate “the boss” and throw meat to the remaining base of MAGA voters despite there not being enough in Tulsa to come close to filling a 19,000 seat arena.

“So? It’s only one guy saying this stuff, it’s probably just Pence covering his own ass.”

No, it isn’t.

Phoenix Rally – Campaign Ignores Ordinance Requiring Masks

On Tuesday, June 23, maskless Ducey accompanied the current president and other maskless people for a photo opportunity and wall signing event at the anti Mexican fence south of Yuma.

He then joined the group headed to the campaign rally at a Phoenix church.

While Ducey was later seen with a mask at the rally, a very insignificant portion of the roughly 3,000 attendees were wearing masks in the crowded auditorium. This was in direct violation of a City of Phoenix and Maricopa County mandatory mask ordinances. The Mayor of Phoenix had already pledged to ignore those violations for some reason.

Outside the church, mostly masked protesters were present but relegated to a “free speech area” where the First Amendment was in full force. Riot equipped police were stationed near the “free speech” area. They later declared the protest an “unlawful assembly” a few minutes after pushing the crowd back and firing pepper balls at them. No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed despite police stating they were assaulted. But, we digress…

Arizona Is Afire With COVID-19 But… Politics

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey held a press event Thursday (June 26) to speak about horrifying pandemic related records being broken nearly daily on his watch and his changing response to the COVID-19 crisis in his state. His goal, like Pence’s, was probably to reassure the people he governs.

Like Pence, Ducey was also questioned by multiple reporters about the disparity and the legality of their positions regarding basic safety measure.

Ducey’s responses include:

  • “In terms of the rights of people to peacefully assemble, those rights are not going to be infringed.”
  • “It is an election year in the United States, and people’s constitutional rights will be protected.”
  • “It’s a Constitutional right and you’re showing some real intellectual dishonesty here.”
  • “You seem to want to read that amendment with emphasis on something that benefits you.”

When asked how requiring people to wear a mask during a global epidemic interferes with their right of peaceful assembly. Governor Ducey replied with a Trumpish “It’s in the First Amendment.”

He was further pressed with a reporter stating “I have the right to peaceably assemble, but I don’t to do it standing here naked.” to which the governor replied “Thank you for not doing that, Howie.” (1:15 of the video below)

Here is the complete text of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It’s not in there, Doug.

Accept Responsibility Instead of Spouting Constitutional Dog Whistles

Pence and Ducey are scheduled to meet again June 30.this coming week. There has been talk of a cancelled trip, then talk of it being on again. So, who knows?

If the press is allowed to pose questions, expect the exact same answer from both men again.

For the rest of us, let’s acknowledge that requiring a citizen to wear a mask in public areas to mitigate the transmission of a virus during a worldwide pandemic is NOT an infringement of anyone’s First Amendment rights.

It’s not, in fact, an infringement on anyone’s rights any more than is a requirement to wear a seat belt in your car or to fold your tray table up when taking off in an airliner.

It’s just a common sense, simple, temporary precaution to make ourselves and our brothers and sisters more safe.

We need to cease making this any sort of “patriotic” thing and stop dragging out selected amendments of the Constitution out of context as a final “gotcha” to shut people up.

  1. Governor says he’ll protect right to assemble – Capitol Times 06/26/2020
  2. Cornell Law Legal Information Institute – First Amendment
  3. Workers Removed Social Distancing Stickers at BOK Arena – Washington Post 06/27/2020
  4. Photos of Trump Event in Tulsa – Fox 23 News 06/20/2020
  5. Trump Campaign Subverted Social Distancing One Sticker at a Time – Billboard 06/26/2020