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Going maskless during COVID-19 emergency isn’t a free-speech right, court rules

via CBS

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that refusing to wear face masks at school board meetings during the COVID-19 outbreak constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment.

The court ruled on cases involving individuals who claimed retaliation by school boards for not wearing masks at public meetings.

The court emphasized that disobeying a masking requirement does not fall under protected speech, comparing it to other forms of non-compliance with the law.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, “A question shadowing suits such as these is whether there is a First Amendment right to refuse to wear a protective mask as required by valid health and safety orders put in place during a recognized public health emergency. Like all courts to address this issue, we conclude there is not,” the court said.

“Skeptics are free to — and did — voice their opposition through multiple means, but disobeying a masking requirement is not one of them. One could not, for example, refuse to pay taxes to express the belief that ‘taxes are theft.’ Nor could one refuse to wear a motorcycle helmet as a symbolic protest against a state law requiring them,” the court continued.

The plaintiffs intend to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Eric Harrison, an attorney for the officials named in the suit, insisted that refusing to wear a mask “is not the sort of ‘civil disobedience’ that the drafters of the First Amendment had in mind as protected speech.”

The court’s decision was in response to lawsuits filed by individuals who were issued summonses or arrested for not wearing masks at school board meetings, with the court finding that they had not demonstrated retaliation.

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