A federal appeals court ruling on Monday has rejected arguments that the refusal to wear face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic is protected speech under the First Amendment. The ruling emerged from two cases in New Jersey that involved individuals who were sanctioned by school boards after refusing to wear masks at public meetings. The court maintained that the mandate to wear a protective mask during a public health emergency does not constitute free speech protected by the Constitution.
One of the lawsuits was referred back to a lower court for further review, while the second one was dismissed due to the plaintiff’s failure to demonstrate retaliation. The court emphasized that disobeying a mandate to wear masks during a health emergency does not qualify as a legitimate form of public expression, likening it to refusing to pay taxes or wear a motorcycle helmet to protest laws requiring them. In response to the ruling, the appellants’ legal representative expressed their intention to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the decision.
The court ruling is seen as a significant response to claims that challenging mask mandates during the public health emergency constitutes constitutionally-protected behavior. It reflected on two cases originating from New Jersey, where individuals faced legal consequences for attending public meetings without masks. However, the legal debate remains ongoing, with the appellants planning to escalate the case to the Supreme Court. Although New Jersey’s masking mandate in schools has ended, the ruling carries implications for future legal challenges related to public health orders during emergencies.