John Balentine recently defined the role of government under our Constitution as follows: “Our government’s lone job is to ensure individual rights to speech, worship, peaceable assembly, private property and a host of other liberties” (“Here’s Something: Do you still desire freedom?”, July 1).

Lone job? The Preamble of the Constitution laid out quite clearly just what and why the people of the United States – after a war against the strongest military in the world at that time – voluntarily, thoughtfully and intentionally imposed upon themselves a new and revolutionary form of government. It is a representative democracy, deriving its authority from the consent of the governed, to be implemented through the processes laid out in the Constitution: “We, the People, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The Constitution of 1789 replaced the weak Articles of Confederation, the first agreement among the states following the Revolutionary War. The Constitution was drafted by many of the Founders, many of the same patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence and fought in the Revolution, and was ratified by all 13 states. It is the form of government we chose, not one that was imposed upon us. It established a more robust concept of the union than did the Articles of Confederation, with many powers of the states subordinated to federal sovereignty but with many safeguards.

There has always been and probably always will be a tension between individual rights and liberties and the general welfare. Where is the line between individual rights and the rights of all of us? As a nation, we have freely imposed a governmental structure of checks and balances on ourselves to make these decisions. To say that individual liberty is the lone job of our government is to negate the very concept of representative government, and I fear Balentine, and those like him, are seeking just such a result.

In a pandemic these tensions are magnified. What does providing for the general welfare mean in this situation? Since the early days of the Republic, public health has been and remains a core function of government, and this has included providing for a vaccination and mandating mask-wearing in an emergency such as COVID-19. These measures are as amazingly effective as they are minimally invasive of our individual rights. Is a mandate to wear a mask in public so great an intrusion on our individual rights when public health officials have proven that this simple act is highly effective protection of the individual and others. This was the policy in the flu pandemic in 1918 and it worked. Frankly, protecting a life trumps (no pun intended) anyone’s freedom from wearing a mask in public. This is not a political issue. It is just common sense.

I take this one step further. I think that mandating vaccination for health care workers and facilities is long overdue. Hospitals and other health care facilities that do not require all their employees to be vaccinated are breaching their public trust. Data are now indicating that 99% of all recent COVID-19 cases are unvaccinated people. Recent court cases have supported health care facilities that have such mandates. The excuse that hospitals are waiting until final approval is given is a sorry excuse for putting their patients at risk while hundreds of millions of Americans have been vaccinated successfully and without ill effect.

Representative forms of government are always evolving to meet new challenges as they arise whether they involve national security or public health. Government, and particularly democracy, is an imperfect undertaking. However imperfect our form of government is, it is more successful, more effective, more long-lasting and more protective of individual rights than any other.

To answer Balentine’s question: We are all “real” Americans.

James Broder is a resident of Cumberland, a Navy veteran (1968-1974), a former Congressional staffer and an attorney with 46 years of practice.

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