US Attorney General William Barr has issued a memo ordering federal judges to take action against local and state governments that have infringed upon citizens’ constitutional rights during the coronavirus pandemic. Barr stated, “Our federal Constitutional rights don’t go away in an emergency.”
Similarly, earlier this week the Department of Justice sided with a church in Virginia whose pastor was fined and summoned to court for holding a service with 16 people.
The Left believes it is in the realm of government responsibility to mildly and temporarily restrict constitutional rights in the interest of public health and safety. They agree with Barr that individual rights need to be upheld against extreme government overreach, but disagree that the measures being taken amidst a national emergency are that. “Severe restrictions on individual liberties need to be justified by a compelling government interest – like fighting a pandemic.” Barr’s memo is seen as a move by Trump to accomplish his goal of reopening the states, an action which he himself cannot do constitutionally. They argue that in the past, the Supreme Court has sided with short-term government interventions, upholding their constitutionality in times of emergency. David Frum with The Atlantic states that religious institutions are not being targeted, noting that it isn’t discrimination if the same “rules are applied equally to all.” It is believed that Christians and conservatives have swayed the federal government with their unfounded cry of victimization.
The Right believes it is in the realm of government responsibility to protect citizens, but not at the expense of personal liberty and constitutional breach. North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd (R) expressed his view on the importance of current governmental actions being “based on both medical expertise and the law. Our country has come too far to settle for anything less.” It is believed that measures being taken against churches during this time have been specifically harsh and targeted. Earlier in April, Mississippi church members were fined for attending a drive-in service, while drive-in restaurants nearby were allowed to continue business. The Justice Department made a statement that “such unequal treatment amounted to an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of religion.” Conservatives point to the hypocrisy of it all: a pastor fined for holding a service with 16 people, in which social distancing measures were taken, versus the governor whose lockdown orders prohibit such gatherings who then attended a press conference with at least 21 people.