3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Rules Not Wearing Masks During COVID-19 Emergency Not Protected Free Speech

February 7, 2024 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Not wearing a mask during COVID-19 health emergency isn’t a free speech right, appeals court says. A federal appeals court recently ruled that not wearing a face mask at school board meetings during the COVID-19 outbreak does not constitute protected speech under the First Amendment.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued this ruling in two related cases stemming from lawsuits against officials in Freehold and Cranford, New Jersey. The suits revolved around claims that the plaintiffs were retaliated against by school boards because they refused to wear masks during public meetings. In one of the suits, the court sent the case back to a lower court for consideration.

In the other, it said the plaintiff failed to show she was retaliated against. Despite these rulings, the federal appeals court found that refusing to wear a mask during a public health emergency does not amount to free speech protected by the Constitution.

The court compared this situation to other actions, such as refusing to pay taxes or not wearing a motorcycle helmet, which are also not considered protected forms of expression under the First Amendment. Attorney Ronald Berutti, who represents the appellants in these cases, stated that they plan to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case. The lawsuits were filed by George Falcone and Gwyneth Murray-Nolan, both of whom attended school board meetings without masks despite masking requirements at the time In response to these rulings, Eric Harrison, an attorney for the officials named in the suit, praised the court's decision.

He argued that refusing to wear a mask in violation of public health mandates is not the type of "civil disobedience" protected by the First Amendment.Remember, this article is written with a female audience aged 25-40 in mind and should be formatted accordingly.

DW Staff

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