SALT LAKE CITY — Protesters gathered Saturday at the Utah State Capitol building to voice their opposition to recent changes to coronavirus guidelines from Gov. Gary Herbert and the state health department. Specifically, the guidelines surrounding mask requirements.
“We’re just against the mask mandate,” said Jed Burnham. “Maybe not anti-mask, but against mandating them.”
The new guidelines require masks in counties around the state that are considered to have high levels of coronavirus transmission. Burnham said he thinks it’s not the government’s job to issue such requirements.
“What’s the governments job?” He asked. “It’s to preserve life, liberty and property.”
One of the groups at the protest, the Proud Boys of Utah — who are listed as one of five active hate groups in the state by the Southern Poverty Law Center — compared mask requirements to the government taking a person’s guns away, among other things.
“Those are things that happen in other countries,” Burnham said. He is a self-described “chaplain” of the Proud Boys Salt Lake City chapter. “They happen in socialist countries, but they don’t happen here. This is a free country,” he added.
For some, mask requirements are seen as an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus, especially as Utah sees record high case counts and hospitalizations. But others, like Jacob Isbell, said the mask requirements simply aren’t legal.
“It’s completely illegal,” Isbell said. “Governor Herbert, or even different counties, who have made lockdown orders and tried to make it enforceable by fines, that’s illegal. Let people choose for themselves.”
However, some legal scholars point to several Supreme Court decisions — like the 1905 case Jacobsen v. Massachusetts — that uphold a state’s authority to issue public health mandates.
In a recent press conference, Governor Herbert pointed out the fact that the guidelines are public health orders rather than state issued mandates.
“It’s a matter of an ordinance,” Herbert said. “It’s an order from our Utah health department to help us all be safe and to keep our economy going. There’s nothing bad about this. It’s a good thing.”
Proud Boys members, like Burnham, say the government should focus on balancing life and liberty when it comes to public health guidelines and requirements.
“You can’t preserve life and get rid of liberty and property,” he said. “So, if to preserve life they needed a big facility, they can’t come and take your home even if you have a big house, right? They can’t do that. Well, I suppose [with] eminent domain they could,” he said, clarifying his statement.
There were several different groups gathered at the Capitol on Saturday, but they all shared a similar message. They felt that the new guidelines represent government overreach into people’s lives.