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We must balance freedom, civic responsibility

Despite the overwhelming consensus of the American professional medical community (including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health) that advocate for COVID-19 vaccination and basic disease prevention behaviors such as mask wearing in public in order to lessen the savage toll of the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans remain skeptical of the necessity, safety and efficacy of these public health measures. Indeed, it is likely that no amount of expert medical advice or corroborative scientific data will convince these skeptics and conspiracy theorists otherwise.

But there is another segment of our society — and Boulder City community — that object to the public health requests, pleas and mandates to get vaccinated and mask up not because they doubt the medical advice and scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of these public health measures, but because they feel that accommodating these requests and mandates threaten their fundamental freedoms as Americans. To these fellow citizens, neighbors and friends, I ask, haven’t patriotic Americans always balanced personal liberties with civic responsibilities for the public good?

As the Greatest Generation can attest, beyond the ultimate sacrifices on the battlefield, noncombatant Americans across the country, and from every walk of life, united in their willingness to forego myriad personal comforts and basic necessities to help the collective effort during the second World War.

Americans, too, have agreed to balance opportunities to amass great personal wealth and accumulate vast private land and resource holdings with collective, civic-oriented projects like our treasured national parks and recreation areas, free public schools and inspirational — almost mythical — public efforts like the Apollo missions to the moon.

And there are other examples of the balance we regularly maintain between our celebrated individual liberties and our collective civic responsibility:

■ Our First Amendment guaranteed freedom of speech does not mean we can spray paint our personal slogans on private or public property.

■ At the end of long Transportation Security Administration lines at the airport, we voluntarily empty our pockets, allow X-ray body scans and surrender our key-chain pocket knives, thus willingly (and momentarily) suspending our Fourth Amendment ensured freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, all in order to protect ourselves and our co-passengers from deadly terrorist attacks in the air.

■ And we understand that while we have a constitutionally protected right to carry a concealed handgun, that right is balanced with efforts to protect public safety by requiring citizens to acquire the necessary permit or license to do so.

Our treasured American freedoms are not absolute. They have always been balanced with the rights of other individuals, and thereby the common, public good. Acknowledging this fact does not foreshadow the end of our constitutionally guaranteed personal liberties. Rather, it reveals a longstanding, fundamental American principle: With great personal freedom comes a dutiful responsibility to ensure the rights and protect the welfare of our fellow citizens as well.

Consequently, our right to refuse mandated COVID-19 vaccination if we work in close quarters with fellow employees or the general public, or to challenge mask requirements for our children in public schools, must similarly be balanced with the rights of others to be reasonably protected from a deadly, infectious pandemic. That is the American way.

The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.

Daniel Benyshek is professor of medical anthropology at UNLV and a proud Boulder City resident.

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