As COVID19 lockdowns began, we noted that such crackdowns would conflict with religious services.
We observed that many contemporary “officials” would have arrested and/or fined Christ and His Disciples for breaching “a public health order” restricting numbers or prohibiting attendance -- even though the gathering was in a private building.
Well, now, out of the Windbag City and Chicago Sun Times comes this. Houses of worship that defy Chicago shutdowns will be shut, and could be demolished.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), sent letters Saturday to Metro Praise International Church in Belmont Cragin, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park and Philadelphia Romanian Church in Ravenswood warning that future violations could result in a church being ‘declared a public health nuisance’ and potentially closed.
And there’s much more.
In her oh-so-pleasant letter to the churches, Arwady proclaimed:
As I previously provided, the Governor’s Executive Order has the force of law and is enforceable by law enforcement agencies in Chicago and throughout the state.
Which presents its own little political-philosophical problem, since, as I’ve noted to students, under the Founders’ presuppositions, the Executive branches of governments were supposed to, oh, EXECUTE statutes, not act as dictators. The US Constitution sets the standard in prohibiting Congress from ceding its statutory power to any other body, but few people bother recognizing the separation of powers any more, least of all state and federal legislators, who continually allow and even encourage the executives to issue edicts along their ever-expanding network of bureaucracies.
But let’s continue with “Herr Doktor”:
CDPH has the authority, pursuant to the Department of Public Health Act (20 ILCS 2305/1-1.1 et seq.), the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois (Department of Public Health Powers and Duties Law) (20 ILCS 2310/1 et seq.) and the Control of Communicable Diseases Code (77 Ill. Adm. Code 690), to order that a location be closed and made off limits to the public ‘to prevent the probable spread of a dangerously contagious or infectious disease… until such time as the condition can be corrected or the danger to the public health eliminated or reduced in such a manner that no substantial danger to the public’s health any longer exists.’ 20 ILCS 2305/2(b)
Of course, some Americans believe a so-called “public health police power” allows all levels of US government to engage in such activity.
But this so-called “public health police power” is not only constitutionally nonexistent, it is constitutionally prohibited and philosophically off-base.
To understand, let’s go back to the Declaration of Independence. In it, Thomas Jefferson explained that, as John Locke argued, governments are formed by people in order to protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – the latter meaning private property and market exchange of it that fosters prosperity.
So, at first blush, couldn’t someone like Dr. Arwady argue that the government has a justified role in stopping the spread of a virus that could harm a life?
Philosophically speaking, no.
The philosophical rationale for the government was to stop intentional, person-on-person aggression against the life, property, or freedom of contract of other people. The founders viewed it as improper for the state to demand tax cash in order to “protect people” from naturally occurring dangers. And doing so opens a Pandora’s Box to politically-connected individuals and groups jockeying for position to claim that their “natural disaster” is the one that deserves government services. This is, of course, precisely how the US government and state and local governments operate today, but it is a corruption of the original so-called rationale.
And, even if it were part of the American philosophical tradition, as foreshadowed above, and as seen in the COVID19 crackdowns, it becomes unworkable and ruled by arbitrariness and caprice.
After all, if the state has a “police power” to “protect public health”, as they argue, there’s always a risk that a weak person could contract a natural pathogen from another human being.
So it’s not surprising to read this in the Dr. Awardy’s letter:
In addition, as the Health Commissioner, I have the power and duty ‘to cause all nuisances affecting the health of the public to be abated with all reasonable promptness,’ and general police powers ‘to correct, by whatever means are necessary, any health hazard that presents an immediate risk to the life or health of one or more citizens of the City of Chicago.’
Of course, the Constitution disagrees with her. The Contract Clause forbids her from infringing on the fulfillment of contracts, which would mean she can’t order businesses closed (if people bothered to respect the clause), and anyone who understands the Bill of Rights knows the terminology “by whatever means are necessary” is not only horrifying, it’s blocked by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
But she doesn’t appear to care. In fact, by issuing her letter, the Doctor implies that she could, if she desired, not only shut down the churches, but tear them down to “protect public health”.
Cristian Ionescu, pastor of Elim Romanian, said he worries that the ‘summary abatement’ threatened in Arwady’s letter could lead to his church being demolished ‘without due process.’
And that is a justified worry. The phrase “by whatever means necessary” makes it clear.
Rights to life, property, and free will are not supposed to be servile to the prejudices of bureaucrats regarding “whatever” is “necessary”.
It appears that many contemporary American politicians and bureaucrats don’t understand that.