Effective today, the City of Denton requires that all employees of businesses in Denton, and all customers to those businesses, wear a mask (with exceptions for those with medical issues) to help stop the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in Denton County and in Texas. Other cities (and counties) in Texas have adopted the same or similar orders for protecting public health. Currently, Denton County has “no plans” to require masks to be worn county-wide.
There is a very small (but very loud) group who believes that the Government requiring a person to wear a mask over a person’s nose and mouth infringes on the person’s “liberty.” This group appears to believe the liberty interest infringed upon stems from “the Constitution” (without specifying whether the Texas Constitution or Constitution of the United States, or both, is meant). For example, Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell recently offered that, “I would recommend you to wear a mask, but I cannot require you to wear it because of your own personal liberty.”
But, under the current circumstances, does a State or local Government requirement that masks be worn in public violate “personal liberty” (as expressed in case law, the Texas Constitution, or the Constitution of the United States)?
The short answer is that it DOES NOT violate ANY liberty interest granted to a person by the Texas Constitution, the Constitution of the United States, or by case law, and that the Government can, and has been, able to impose such requirements for over a century (if not longer).
The longer answer is:
I do not know where the idea that the Government requiring a person to wear a mask during a public health crisis violates some (state or federal) constitutional liberty interest came from, but, to be blunt, it has absolutely no basis in law, the State Constitution, or the Constitution of the United States.
The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held that the Government can do lots of things people (nowadays, for some reason) seem to think violate “personal liberty” (whatever “personal liberty” means; I assume this means something like “civil liberties”), for example:
- the Government can require vaccinations for children to attend public school in the interest of public health (Texas does this);
- the Government can ban smoking in public areas in the interest of public health (Denton does this);
- the Government can require vaccinations of adults in the interest of public health (this was argued in the United States Supreme Court in the early 1900’s), as well.
All of these things would impact the same interests raised by people who do not believe the Government can require a person to wear a mask under the current circumstances: freedom of choice, the freedom to decide what to do with one’s own body, etc. Note that whether the Government can do the above, and whether the Government should be able to do the above, are two totally different questions.
There is simply no truth at all to the idea that requiring a person to wear a mask under the current circumstances violates either our State Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.