In an effort to eliminate any possibility of Americans being able to do anything remotely enjoyable or festive, governors have been discouraging people from celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional way, calling family gatherings dangerous and irresponsible. Oregon Governor Kate Brown went so far as to encourage people to call the cops on neighbors who violate Covid restrictions.
“This is no different than what happens if there’s a party down the street and it’s keeping everyone awake,” she said to local news station KEZI. “What do neighbors do? They call law enforcement because it’s too noisy. This is just like that. It’s like a violation of a noise ordinance.”
Brown signed an executive order implementing new restrictions for the next two weeks, including closing restaurants and gyms and banning get-togethers of over 6 people, or people from more than 2 households. Violations are punishable with up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,250 fine.
I disagree with Brown’s claim that having a get-together of over 6 people is equivalent to making excessive noise. Noise directly affects other people by assaulting their ears with unwanted sensory input, making it impossible to sleep or relax. Violating the governor’s Covid restrictions, on the other hand, does not directly affect anyone else. Many people argue that actions that violate Covid restrictions, such as get-togethers, do affect other people by increasing the amount of Covid cases in the community. It is true that in aggregate, group gatherings increase the number of Covid cases, which does increase each individual’s odds of contracting the virus. But any particular action or get-together affects other people only indirectly. The fact that an action carries a risk of a bad health outcome is not sufficient reason to ban it. Anyone who wishes to keep his or her risk to a minimum is free to stay home and avoid contact with other people entirely. Those who have a higher risk tolerance should also have the freedom to act according to their own preferences.
To their credit, many Oregonians are challenging Brown’s authoritarian restrictions. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said, “We cannot arrest or enforce our way out of the pandemic, and we believe both are counterproductive to public health goals.” Clackamas County chair-elect Tootie Smith said that the restrictions make people “second-rate slaves.” Paul Aziz, the mayor of Lebanon, called the restrictions “not fair” to businesses and “devastating to our community financially and on our citizens’ mental health” and said that Brown “acted beyond her authority”
Brown called these comments “irresponsible.” She said: “These are politicians seeking headlines, not public servants, trying to save lives. My top priority as governor is to keep Oregonians healthy and safe.” The top priority of any governor or leader should not be to save lives or to keep people healthy and safe; it should be to protect people’s rights. Additionally, there is nothing irresponsible about pointing out the fact that a government policy violates people’s rights. It is disturbing that implementing totalitarian control over people’s lives is now considered a requirement for acting in a responsible manner and respecting rights is now considered reckless.