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“Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.”

In 1981, Ronald Reagan delivered this line in the middle of a speech to builders and construction workers regarding the United States economy and its implications for people who were struggling to maintain their quality of life while layoffs were rampant and families struggled to make ends meet. It was a familiar time economically, but his words get to the conflicting interests of our current moment, and neither side benefits from talking around the other’s concerns. The question is how do we respond to a threat that requires our collective action without compromising the philosophical foundation of our country?

Constitutional rights are the cornerstone of our nation and the liberty we enjoy. Free speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to demonstrate are some of the most basic, but we all know that even the most fundamental rights have limits. We encounter those boundaries when people’s actions impede the rights of others.

Freedom of speech does not protect a person yelling Fire! in a crowded theater. The right to bear arms does not grant a person the right to use weapons to deprive a person of life. The right to assemble is also limited by threats to public safety, as has been the case since our country’s founding.

Our constitutional liberties are precious and should be preserved, but it is not controversial to suggest that in a civilized society, exercising our rights should not harm the greater good.

This past Monday, April 20, in violation of stay at home orders, protesters gathered in Harrisburg. They protested the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order that was put in place to protect the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians. I fear that like the Philadelphians attending the 1918 Liberty Loan Parade raising funds for WWI and unwittingly releasing a behemoth second wave of the Spanish Flu, this relatively small group of protesters have contributed to the spread of the disease, though less from the gathering itself than the dangerous messaging that surrounds it and continues to spread.

People gathered for a 1918 war bond parade in Philadelphia, similar to the one called the “deadliest parade in American history” for its death toll of 17,000 people who succumbed to Spanish flu. Photo courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Many legislators have pushed the idea that the reaction to this pandemic has been blown out of proportion. Others have gone a step further and espoused conspiracy theories that present the virus as an effort meant to achieve policy goals or exact political revenge by destroying the economy. These are dangerous ideas that do not deserve refutation when cooler heads on both sides of the aisle accept the virus is real but disagree on how to address it. In my view, this is the only appropriate area of debate: one that recognizes the reality of this disease.

The stated intention of the demonstration, applauded by Representative Frank Ryan and organized in part by Representative Russ Diamond, was to tell Harrisburg to ease regulations and trust in Pennsylvanians to do the right thing and exert self-control once the stay at home order was lifted. This point would have been better made had the protesters followed the social distancing guidelines championed by everyone from President Trump’s task force to Governor Wolf’s cabinet.

Frank Ryan praising the Harrisburg protest on Facebook.

Shamefully, many state lawmakers were at the heart of this demonstration. Seeming to lack concern for the serious medical issues, they promoted transforming the capital into a Petri dish for this experiment of public health that put at risk not only themselves, but also the people who come into contact with them. The demonstration reflected a lack of rationality and social responsibility on the part of the organizers.

In my opinion, this wanton disregard for public health speaks to the values of people who have no excuse not to know better. The representatives orchestrating this movement are risking a resurgence of the virus, and they must take responsibility for the consequences. I decided to run for office because I wanted to offer people an alternative to politicians who disregard people’s everyday needs. This protest threw that disregard into stark relief and added urgency to the need for new voices representing Lebanon.

To the protesters who participated, and the people who support the protest and its message, I want you to know that I am sensitive to your concerns. I wish it were possible to return to business as usual and allow people to go back to work without compromising the health and safety of all of our neighbors and loved ones with this disease, but that is not the world where we find ourselves. Unless we are willing to sacrifice more lives than we must for this disease, we must continue to follow CDC guidelines which defer to state health officials.

In a recent article for The Lincoln Institute, Frank Ryan wrote that “In the case of the coronavirus…  saving everyone is an impossibility and as painful as that is to deal with, it must be dealt with for the greater good and survival of all…” Though, of course, he does not mean the survival of all, and goes on to say, “Perfect solutions are not possible.”

Do not let perfect be an enemy of the good. As healthcare workers protest against the lack of protective equipment and inadequate interventions to ensure that they can perform their jobs well—displaying pictures of colleagues who have died from COVID-19, I think the best thing that we can do is follow the guidance of the President’s task force and our local health officials to prevent untold loss of life.

I implore readers to continue in this shared sacrifice and recognize the people pushing for this are not trying to run our lives but to save our lives. We can come up with solutions only if we fully grasp the extent of the challenge before us. I urge legislators at every level to ensure we can exit these protective measures, following the governor’s data-driven approach, with our businesses and livelihoods intact. Representative Ryan is right that we do not need a perfect solution, but we do need one better than what he and his colleagues are offering.



Calvin “Doc” Clements

Candidate for House District 101

Calvin “Doc” Clements is running to represent District 101 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. To learn more about his campaign, visit


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