Judge labels state mask bullying as ‘without legal authority’
One of the most ham-fisted efforts by a state to prevent the public from protecting itself is Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to bar mask mandates in the public schools during Florida’s intensifying pandemic. We thank Circuit Court Judge John Cooper for calling out that action as being “without legal authority.”
Unfortunately, the judge’s ruling on Friday will not be the last word. The DeSantis team is challenging the ruling in higher courts based on the unconscionable position that anyone can decide to send children to school unmasked and menace community health because they have the right not to protect either themselves or others.
That alleged “right” to endanger others is a right only in the minds of the governor and his paid appointees. It does not exist in law.
As Judge Cooper explained in a long oral presentation of his decision, all of us over 21 have the right in Florida to drink alcohol to excess, but that right ends when we get behind the wheel of an automobile and can endanger others.
State laws prevent anyone from sending to school children who have not first been inoculated against communicable diseases. No parental right allows families to opt out of that. Yet the governor and his team have decided there is a parental right to opt out of protection for the killer disease of Covid-19.
We agree totally with the governor that individual rights should not be arbitrarily abridged. But individual rights take second place once an action endangers others. The state has the right and duty to protect the safety of the community first. That is government’s first responsibility.
Take an old example of our individual rights in law versus the rights of the community. In this nation we all have the Bill of Rights guarantee of freedom of speech, but as US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in a decision more than a century ago, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a panic.”
Judge Cooper in his oral ruling after four days of testimony said the governor’s executive order against mask mandates in schools exceeded his authority because the governor based his authority on a law that he had signed June 29, yet he had violated part of that law while relying on other portions of it. The state is likely to challenge that element of his ruling in higher courts.
But regardless of how higher courts interpret the state’s actions, how can you challenge the principle that the public schools in this state have not only the right but even more so the duty to keep safe the children who are placed in their care – children who in many instances are too young to be inoculated with any protection at all against Covid-19?
No matter how higher courts may rule, we should all be thanking the school boards and superintendents in 10 of the state’s 67 counties including Miami-Dade and Broward who had the courage to institute mask mandates in the face of severe intimidation from the governor and education officials that includes threats to withhold school board salaries and public school funding.
Thank goodness these local school officials have the guts to do the right thing in the face of totally misplaced intimidation by state officials who are old enough to know better. We understand the childish schoolyard bully but not the governor.