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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | 'Too many people think their right to be stupid trumps our right to be disease-free'

I am writing this column from my basement where I am quarantined because I have COVID-19. I suffered a breakthrough infection after being exposed to one of the tens of millions of Americans exercising their “right” to refuse to be inoculated and/or wear a mask.
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Attorney David Betras

I am writing this column from my basement where I am quarantined because I have COVID-19. 

Like thousands of others who have been vaccinated, I suffered a breakthrough infection after being exposed to one of the tens of millions of Americans who are exercising their “right” to refuse to be inoculated and/or wear a mask.

The attitude of the anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers fueling the spread of the Delta variant and thereby elongating a pandemic that should be waning was summed up by a father opposed to a mask mandate enacted by his local school board: “Last time I checked, this is America, and you can’t make anybody do anything. I thought that’s what people died for, our freedom,” Caleb Schoth of Sabine Parish Louisiana said in a news clip aired during the Aug. 15 episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. 

Excuse me, but this irresponsible goof was describing a state of anarchy, not the United States. We live in a nation of laws that compel us to do innumerable things: stop at red lights, pay taxes, refrain from killing others, vaccinate our kids, etc., etc. Contrary to what Caleb and those who share his views believe, the minute we stop obeying the law is the minute we lose our freedom and descend into chaos.

The people who think they have the “right” to refuse to be vaccinated are every bit as misguided as Mr. Schoth. As I have noted many times in this space, the rights granted to us by the Constitution are not absolute. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but we may not yell fire in a crowded theater or perform a human sacrifice as part of a religious ritual. 

The Second Amendment says we can keep and bear arms, but we are not permitted to walk down the street with a bazooka or Thompson submachine gun. In many ways, the limits placed on our rights are every bit as important as the rights themselves because they balance the interests of the individual and of society as a whole.

To apply the principle of limited rights to the pandemic I will paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes who observed that one person’s right to throw a punch ends at the tip of another person’s nose. As it relates to COVID-19 the right of the unvaccinated to spread a deadly virus ends at everyone else’s nose. I am in lockdown and the nation is enduring a severe coronavirus spike because too many people think their right to be stupid trumps our right to be disease-free.

They are wrong.

Fortunately, businesses, including Walt Disney, Delta Airlines, and Google, more than 1,750 hospitals, governmental agencies including the U.S. military, Ohio State University, and other entities are countering the anti-vax lunacy by imposing vaccine mandates

The “not in my arm” crowd is howling in protest, but I would remind them that this is America and they have rights: the right to choose between being vaccinated or finding a new job. 

I hope for all of our sakes they choose the former and wish them well if they opt for the latter …

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.

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