The Mandate of Freedom

If you were sinking in a ship and had something that would block 50% of the inflowing water, you wouldn’t say, “that’s not worth bothering with.” You’d use it because it would buy you and everyone on board more time to get to their life raft and for the rescue squad to get to you.

As one of the chief preventative measures against the spread of the coronavirus, wearing face masks is now mandated in 33 states. Early in the pandemic there was speculation as to how effective face masks really are. Coupled with the need to reserve the medical community’s supply, many were reluctant (perhaps rightfully so) to wear masks. However, the Surgeon General, among others, quickly affirmed the value of masks and even demonstrated for the public how to make your own. Heeding such advice, which has since been confirmed by the CDC and countless medical studies, I put an online order in for surgical face masks (not the medical-workers-only N95s). While in short supply, the order arrived about a week later (these are more readily available now than a few months ago).

There is little excuse now for not wearing a mask, unless a medical condition prevents you. Unfortunately, there are still those who are resistant to mask wearing, despite the plethora of data that says we should. The excuse that they are only 50% effective in preventing transmission—although current studies suggest that percent is closer to 80—doesn’t really fly (see Yes, Wearing Masks Helps. Here’s Why). Even if it was only 50%, like the sinking ship analogy, the mask might keep us afloat long enough to get the help we need. 

Georgia’s not on the list of states mandating mask use. Instead, the governor’s saddled up the courts with a lawsuit against the Atlanta mayor (who tested positive for coronavirus) for issuing an executive order requiring it (Atlanta Mayor Defends Legal Faceoff). Such are the times and one explanation (alongside Trump’s mixed messages) for the United States’ less than admirable (an understatement when compared to other countries) response to the pandemic.

The negative reaction of some towards masks is fueled by the perceived threat to their freedom of choice. Yet, mandating something—enforcing people to do something—is not necessarily an affront to freedom and may in fact be seen to promote it. For example, the mandate to stop at a red light allows one to freely drive down the street without worrying about getting side-railed at an intersection. The mandate against smoking in hotels allows those who want a smoke-less room the option of a healthful night’s sleep.

So if by mandating masks we can unite the nation’s efforts in the fight against COVID—then just put the mask on! Constraining some, so that society and the many already complying can increase their odds against the virus, ultimately works in the favor of our freedom—the freedom from this invisible foe we’ve been fighting for half-a-year.

Wearing masks is a great opportunity to practice the virtue of selflessness: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4, NKJV). It may not feel comfortable or look great but if we can unify our efforts and protect others, we can flatten the curve and perhaps reclaim the upper hand.

Published by Paul J. Palma

Paul J. Palma is a professor of Christian history and theology at Regent University. He is the author of the books "Embracing Our Roots: Rediscovering the Value of Faith, Family, and Tradition," "Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity" (Routledge Studies in Religion series), and "Grassroots Pentecostalism in Brazil and the United States: Migrations, Missions, and Mobility" (Palgrave Macmillan). He is also a contributing writer for Paul enjoys spending quality time with his family on walks together, going to the beach, fishing, and doing work around the yard.

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