People’s true nature comes out during times of trial. And while COVID-19 is bringing out the best in some, it’s bringing out the worst in others.

The same is true for state governments. Many are forcing their residents to shelter in place with threats of fines and imprisonment for those who want to go for a walk, a Sunday drive or continue to operate their “non-essential” business.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

I’m sorry to say my home state of Rhode Island is, too, overreacting to the virus, with Gov. Gina Raimondo issuing a stay-at-home order and calling out the National Guard to stop New York residents as they cross into the Ocean State via car, rail and bus. She’s even requested that residents snitch on any neighbors with out-of-state license plates.

Raimondo is doing all this to force New Yorkers, fleeing America’s COVID-19 epicenter, to self-quarantine when they reach Rhode Island. But is this something that should be done in a free country?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is rightly aghast and dumbfounded by Rhode Island’s militant response.

“If they don’t roll back that policy, I’m going to sue Rhode Island, because that clearly is unconstitutional,” Cuomo told CNN. “I understand the goal and I could set up my borders and say I’m not letting anyone in until they take a test to see whether or not they have the virus. But, you know, there’s a point of absurdity, and I think that what Rhode Island did is at that point of absurdity.”

World governments are responding disparately to the outbreak. On one side of the spectrum, Communist China has imposed martial law in an attempt to halt the virus’ spread. Sweden, on the other hand, has decided to do little in hopes of hastening “herd immunity.”

America, meanwhile, has taken a mostly suggestive approach, encouraging citizens to behave in a certain way, instead of forcing them to. This is appropriate in a free society, but in recent days some states are becoming more authoritarian in dictating limits on travel, work and even outdoor recreation.

Freedom lovers everywhere should be concerned with these developments. Cuomo is right to believe Rhode Island’s heavy hand is unconstitutional. New Yorkers and other Tri-State residents deserve access to their second homes or to flee to relatives’ homes.

The same is true in Maine, evidenced by the number of drivers from away motoring up to their vacation homes here. They pay local taxes and should be free to travel across state lines. We’re all in this together.

In the heat of a pandemic, it’s hard to trust in freedom. Fearful residents want government to come to their rescue. They’d rather cede their or others’ individual rights for the promise, false as it may be, of safety and security.

But it’s in these trying times that we must demand our freedoms, and sue if they’re violated. Once government expands its power over the people, it rarely gives up that power, as Scott Radnitz, a University of Washington professor, told Public Radio International recently.

“Even without any malevolent intent, major economic crises and wars usually lead to an expansion of the state and greater intrusions into people’s lives,” he said. “But sometimes once governments develop new capacities, they find it hard to let them lapse.”

Maine has so far sought the public’s willing help in fighting the virus’ spread, and has armed the public with helpful information. It would do well to avoid the authoritarian traps to which Rhode Island and other states have already succumbed.

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