Saturday, November 28, 2020

Mask defiers spoil public process for all

| September 13, 2020 12:00 AM

Twice in recent weeks, a group of people deliberately not wearing face masks has shown up at public meetings in the Flathead Valley. And both times the result has been the same — the in-person meetings were quickly adjourned and rescheduled in an online format.

The Kalispell City Council was the first local government body to be confronted by maskless crusaders; this week the Kalispell School Board had a similar experience. Restoring in-person gatherings has been a struggle for many groups — local government entities included — during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s mandate of wearing masks at public gatherings aims to make it possible to still get together for important functions.

There is great value in being able to speak your mind in person at a city council or school board meeting, but unfortunately, these defiant rule-breakers have spoiled that right for everyone else who has chosen to follow the mask mandate.

The unmasked attendees claim their right to free speech under the First Amendment is being violated. We ardently support the First Amendment, but their argument just doesn’t hold water. The attendees had every right to deliver their comments and participate in the meeting, if they had shown civil obedience, followed the rules and worn a face covering.

Even if the unmasked individuals were spaced at 6 feet apart, they failed to follow the simple directive of wearing a mask. Instead, they impeded the public process for everyone else. Now, who knows how long we’ll have to rely on Zoom meetings to provide public input.

It’s both arrogant and selfish for these mask deniers to assert their right to not wear a mask is more important than their fellow citizens’ health and wellbeing.

It’s mind-boggling that masks have become such a divisive issue during such a vulnerable time as a pandemic. Wearing a face mask isn’t as much a mandate as it is a common courtesy to protect everyone.

We’re all tired of this kind of petty divisiveness. And the solution is simple: just wear the darn mask.