Should the rights of the American people or their own health and safety be prioritized during a global pandemic?

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Introductory Video:

Faces of Wilmington: Portraits of residents masking up for the Covid-19  crisis [Free read] | Port City Daily

Since the beginning of government around the world, there has been a war for dominance over public safety and personal rights. More specifically, within America, over the past year we have seen a vast increase in government control, and with kids and parents turning kitchens into home offices, and protesters seeking racial justice being sent home, are American rights really still being enforced? While some people feel that this pandemic must be controlled and we all have to stay home, others are being controlled by their once democratic government for what they feel is ‘just a cold’. However, while these mandates have helped the spread of Covid-19 to slow tremendously, is the social cost of growing achievement gaps, income gaps, and financial distress really worth it? Looking at this ethically, should we as a country be prioritizing our rights as Americans or public health and safety during a global pandemic?


From last March when masks were supposed to be saved for first responders, to the present when masks are seen as second nature, there has always been a bit of a battle to get all Americans to comply with the new government control over facial coverings.

Autonomy: many Americans take pride in their freedom of expression given to them by the First Amendment, however, when the freedom to choose whether or not to cover your face is no longer available, many Americans feel that their autonomy has also been taken. While it is key to ensure that people are making their own decisions for their own bodies, it’s also crucial to recognize that in the case of the pandemic, their decision also impacts others and their health. 

  • McGill University study shows Americans’ top five reasons for not masking: 
    • medical issues
    • discomfort
    • don’t believe in the science
    • personal freedom and/or government control
    • Covid-19 is a government conspiracy 
  • U.S. government is at a loss for punishment, there is no precedent to base it off of
  • In all cases in which someone has been arrested for not masking, it has been shown that there is no constitutional violation present in mask mandates
  • Video from a doctor going over compliance with masking:


The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution claims that all American children have the right to free and equal education, however, has this right been upheld during the past year? With almost the entire country pivoting to online schooling for the remainder of the year after Covid-19 had been claimed a pandemic, the achievement gap in America was only bound to grow.

Beneficence: While it may be bold to request that each school gets exactly the same materials, it should at least be expected that each school is doing what they can to ensure that each and every student is taken care of and is as successful as possible. For many children, home comes with no questions; it’s a safe place with food, heating, and maybe even good internet. However, many kids don’t have this privilege and it’s the school system’s job to put the emphasis on equal education and ensure that each kid is living up to their fullest potential. 

  • Equal education isn’t possible with the difference in funding for different school districts; providing each student with the necessary resources and technology to continue a proper education from home isn’t possible for most schools.
  • I asked my advisor who is also a teacher at my school what she thought about the importance of school during the pandemic, she responded: “momentum is important to make sure you’re building off your learning”
  • Not all kids have a safe home, or a home at all, to do ‘at home’ school from
    • schools making the assumption that this basic necessity is available to all students isn’t fair 
    • schools closing also shut off an entirely safe space for children to go to
      • whether school was shelter, a place to get food, or a place to escape an abusive household, for many kids, school is necessary to escape the troubles of everyday life
  • Below is a graph showing that the increase in the achievement gap caused by varied teaching systems is, unfortunately, going to become a long term effect of Covid-19

Racial Injustice

Living just a few miles from Minneapolis has also given me first-hand experience with the control Covid-19 has had over our 1st Amendment rights. The 1st Amendment claims that Americans have the right to freedom of speech, religion, press, gathering, and protest. Following the death of George Floyd, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called in not only the help of surrounding police forces but also the National Guard. In addition, there were also many limits on gatherings due to Covid-19.

Non-maleficence: It’s important here to understand that the peaceful protesters were doing no harm to anyone in the surrounding area. On the other hand, groups of military and/or police ‘protection’ were there for the sole purpose to protect buildings and communities around the protests, yet they ended up shooting protesters with rubber bullets and tear-gassing them. The key in protesting under the First Amendment is to avoid harm at all costs which was successfully done by the protesters. 

  • The First Amendment guarantees the right to protesting, yet those that protested saw many consequences for exercising that right
  • Protesters were arrested in broad daylight in Minneapolis for being completely peaceful

Interview with a friend that went to some of the protests:

I first asked them if at any point they had felt unsafe in terms of Covid while attending the protests, to which they responded, “I did not feel unsafe when I was protesting during Covid because everybody was wearing their mask even though there were a lot of people in close proximity to me, everybody had their mask on and even some of the more peaceful protest people were handing out hand sanitizer and giving out free masks”

So while the distancing may have been a problem, people were doing what they could to be safe in terms of getting sick. In addition, in the two weeks following the protests, Minnesota saw no increase in the cases and it can therefore be inferred that there was a very small risk in going to the protests.

On the other hand, when I asked whether they felt unsafe because of the immense security presence, their response was completely different: “There were times when I was protesting that I did feel unsafe because of the police presence, but knowing that I was out there to protest for a cause bigger than me getting arrested made it find to deal with”.

This further proves the fact that what should have been the focus was not harming anyone and keeping in mind non-maleficence; as the protesters did what they could to ensure gatherings stayed peaceful, the government protection sent out to control the crowds could have been there to avoid harm to those protesters rather than harm them themselves.

Finally, I asked them whether they felt their rights had been violated, to which they replied: “The 1st Amendment says that there is freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and at many times, yes, there was a lot of violence, but violence only occurred because of the police trying to “contain” the protest and in the end, there were so many peaceful protests and still the police showed up and started to arrest people who were only there peacefully and their rights were violated during those protests”.

While arrests and other forms of punishment were done in the name of “public safety”, they were all still in violation of The Constitution and it was the government issued “protection” that made protesters feel unsafe rather than Covid itself.


In conclusion, we can all recognize just how many bigger groups Covid has affected and held back. It’s important to realize that although public safety and health are important, the rights of the American people are no small feat and when they’re taken away, there is a huge detriment to our society. There is no weighing the two throughout a pandemic, because while mandates and restrictions help to slow the spread and keep many people alive and well, Americans still have every right to not be at an educational disadvantage because of their financial demographic nor be silenced against racial justice. While mandates are important, there is no reasonable explanation for the harm many of them caused on children of certain groups or peaceful protesters. To carry forward with not only this pandemic but beyond it, we must recognize just how important American rights are and do everything we can to give justice to all Americans that are seeking them. 


1 comment

  1. Hi!

    I loved how you talked about different types of mandates in the context of current events, such as the protests after the brutal killing of George Floyd. It’s also super interesting to question whether we can truly separate Covid-19 from the lives and rights of Americans, as at this point, the two seem to go hand in hand. Great job!

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