- - Tuesday, September 28, 2021

During the pandemic last year, the famous catchphrase was “we’re in this together.” How quickly times have changed. Recently, the “togetherness” aspect has been scrapped for the “us versus them” mentality. President Joe Biden and his administration have even begun vilifying certain Americans based on their vaccination status and taking the extraordinary measure of blaming the pandemic on a sizeable portion of the population. How did we get here?

The lockdowns over the past 19 months were predicated on the needs of society and a broad denial of the individual’s needs. Public health emergencies always require balancing the needs of the community with individual freedom, and it was understandable in March of 2020 that the impetus was on mitigating the spread of a dangerous virus.

The problems arose when state governments, notably California, New York, New Jersey, and Michigan – but there were others, began using the health crisis as justification to obliterate individual liberties. In those states, the individual’s rights were subsumed entirely by the grandiose “needs” of the collective.

The individual’s religious freedom was trampled, as overreaching governors and mayors insisted that society had a more pressing need than people who wanted to attend church. Never mind the reality that bars and restaurants were open in many of these same jurisdictions, while churches were forced to keep their doors closed.

The lockdowns also severely harmed individuals economically, as millions of Americans were classified as “nonessential” and forced to remain at home. Small-business owners, who needed to be allowed to work to keep their businesses open, were told their investments of time did not matter. Economic freedom of the individual was diminished as the federal government stepped in, validating the state governments’ claims that individuals had no right to work as long as taxpayer-funded checks could be doled out.

The federal government and the states thus reduced individual economic liberty to the more banal “right” to receive money.

A particularly frightening assault on individual liberty emerged as the individual’s right to free speech was made subordinate to an ambiguous collective right not to be exposed to potentially false information. Those who questioned the origins of the COVID-19 virus, or suggested it might have originated in China, were flagged on social media sites. Some were permanently kicked off their social media accounts. The leading journalist providing facts and statistics about COVID-19 deaths, the ineffectiveness of masks, and medical studies on the vaccines, Alex Berenson, has been permanently banned from Twitter. His crime? Deviating from the established narrative (read: “Science!”).

The right to speak freely, assemble, and petition our government – all guaranteed rights of the individual protected in the First Amendment – have been curtailed, as state governments and the federal government have blocked large gatherings. Following the poor example set by Congress, many states went further and closed their capitol buildings to the public.

The individual’s right to health freedom is now under attack in ways we have never before seen in our nation. The Biden administration hopes to compel every citizen to get vaccinated, despite an individual’s religious objections or medical history. Over the last year-and-a-half, our collectivist public policy has shifted the debate from the individual as the locus of freedom to the collective society.

In his examination of individual liberty, Frank Meyer once observed that this type of thinking negates the individual’s rights in favor of made-up “rights” of the collective. In this inversion of the relationship between the individual and society, he noted, “it is in society, not in the individuals who make it up, that right inheres; and whatever ‘rights’ men may be allowed are pseudo-rights, granted and revocable by society. The moral claims of the person are in effect reduced to nothingness.”

As we look back at the past 18 months and wonder how we got to this point – where the federal government is threatening to kick individuals out of the workforce and out of the economy for exercising a personal choice not to get vaccinated – the answer rests in our elected leaders and federal bureaucrats’ dismissal of individual liberty. The individual has been reduced to near-nothingness.

President Biden’s pandemic mandates – and they are numerous now – remind us that one danger of treating individuals as if they were irrelevant is that they quickly do become irrelevant. Americans should be firmly on guard against an administration so convinced that the amorphous and undefined collective society holds more rights than the individual.

• Jenny Beth Martin is the co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.

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