Yelling “Virus!” in a crowded city: One of the few exceptions to our First Amendment rights
By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
It was in our middle school history class that we were formally introduced to the US Constitution. One of the first and most important questions we asked, “Are there any exceptions to the First Amendment?” has a somewhat complicated answer. Yes, there are exceptions in certain circumstances. The most famous exception was quoted by our history teacher: “You can’t yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.” The obvious reason being that it would start a stampede of panicked people, screaming, running and trampling each other in their frenzied exit. In this situation, the fact that many people do not need to smell smoke or see flames to provoke panic, is the very nature of this crime. All common sense is lost. And this takes us to the very heart of the matter.
The political response to the pandemic and new restrictive laws put into place by politicians, without consulting any healthcare experts, has had a similar effect. Not just self-isolation, sheltering in place, but forcing all “unnecessary” businesses to close indefinitely is just the beginning. Closing public beaches and parks, most of which are used by people who already practice ‘social distancing’; the mandate to wear masks at all times while shopping for our “necessities”, etc., these are kneejerk responses to the fear-mongering that is preached on a daily basis, by politicians on their podiums. Very few actual scientific facts have been publicly released regarding the exact nature and characteristics of this virus. Most of what is being spread and printed by the media is nothing short of tabloid quality reporting. The unverified stories of otherwise healthy young people suddenly falling ill and dying from this novel virus are accepted as fact, without a single shred of evidence. Emergency room physicians who are on the front lines of this battle are rarely interviewed “live”, and are heavily edited. “Sound bites” of their actual reports and statistics are carefully put together in order to sculpt a narrative identical to the political and economic panic that is being propagated. Some physicians have spoken out about the pressure, and monetary incentives, to put COVID down as a “cause” for any mortality.
The results are clear: People are doing what they would typically do when reacting to threats---panic. Even now, after the worst has passed and people are being told to stop hoarding--many store shelves are still nearly empty of basic, everyday items. Where is the common sense? Has it fled to parts unknown?
A few weeks ago, two Kern County (CA) immunologists gave an interview for a local network news affiliate. Their facilities had done approximately 60% of all the COVID testing thus far in Kern County. Their report contained statistics on the approximate percentage of positive versus negative tests, the percentage of confirmed cases that had already recovered, and the percentage of confirmed cases where mortality was definitively proven to be COVID. Mortalities from pre-existing illness or chronic medical conditions, or people who tested positive incidentally when presenting with life-threatening stab wounds or other such causes, were not counted. These two MDs, who had nothing to gain whatsoever from making this information public, were subsequently criticized, harassed and threatened by politicians and lay persons. In other words, people who had no idea what the real numbers were, the nature of the disease, nor any knowledge of molecular biology or immunology. Their interview was taken down, edited, and put back up several times, with key information cut from its content. It was clear to anyone listening that most of this debacle has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics, control, and fear.
The WHO, our global oversight committee for medical science and health, has helped legislate human rights protections in the many countries, continents and cultures over which it has been given influence. It is their responsibility to educate and inform the populace about dangerous behavior and traditions practiced in third world and developed nations, monitor health statistics and threats, and track diseases at their source. It is also their responsibility to inform governing bodies, such as the UN, on the need for proper legislation concerning criminal acts like ritual mutilation and human trafficking. Local and federal agencies are then tasked with the enforcement of these laws. Lately, it seems the WHO is motivated more by politics and power than global health when we get no credible information from them and see police officers enforcing stay-at-home orders.
It’s become apparent that the processes by which public health is protected have been discarded. Information is delivered to the public by mass media, and the media is fed by politicians. These political leaders (e.g., state governors) make unilateral decisions affecting millions of people and claim that health and safety is their top priority. Their source of information is admittedly foreign media‚ÄĒfrom countries known for human rights violations, totalitarianism and lack of transparency. Major healthcare institutions known for their medical research are not a primary source of information. They are not even a secondary source. Conditions resembling martial law are now accepted, no questions asked. Everyone, including epidemiologists and other specialists, must follow uninformed decisions made by ignorant people.
Based on the nature of panic, much of the subsequent fallout could have been foreseen. And avoided. Many emergency room physicians are reporting that patients with acute, life-threatening conditions (myocardial infarction, stroke) are avoiding urgent medical care because they are absolutely terrified of contracting COVID-19 in the ER. And this, specifically, is the reason that yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is considered a punishable crime, one of the few truly obvious exceptions to our First Amendment rights. The most insidious and dangerous things are sometimes hiding in plain sight, right in front of us. They are usually camouflaged as something meant to protect us. At the core, they are condescending, infantilizing laws intended to rob our common sense and freedom. As we unload our groceries, the large letters stamped on every plastic bag, stating, ‘This Bag Is Not A Toy’ is a reminder that we have politicians protecting us from such dangerous things.
These are but empty gestures, pulling our attention from what is real, to what is not. It’s a cheap magician’s trick, with a truly terrifying bureaucratic monster waving that wand.
Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing. ¬© 2020