A Very Modest Proposal on Face Masks (From a Once Immodest City)

The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve walked around the Garden of Eden naked and unashamed. Some people have the same attitude about face masks today. While the rest of us are worried about a highly contagious deadly disease there are those who still dwell in the paradise of a simpler, earlier time. 

We’ve all seen signs on public buildings that say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Most of us comply with these health regulations without thinking about it. However, some balk at being required to wear Personal Protective Equipment during a global pandemic. This feels like a fairly arbitrary place to draw the line. 

In 1974 TV network anchor Walter Cronkite designated Knoxville as “the streaking capital of the world.” Back then people weren’t afraid to shed all their clothes and run through our streets in wild abandon. In comparison, refusing to wear a face mask seems like a fairly timid form of libertarianism. What ever happened to the era of bold leadership?

Of course, in the year 2020 we need bold leaders who can keep their clothes on. In Knox County there is actually an ordinance against indecent exposure that reads, “the County Commission for Knox County finds that public nudity is injurious to public health, safety and morals.” As far as I know no one died from streaking in the 70’s when it was a huge fad. However, 1,311 Americans died of Covid 19 on Thanksgiving Day alone. Over 260,000 have died since the pandemic began. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are continually warning us that going out in public without a face mask is harmful to public health and safety. The question is, “At what point will we call it indecent exposure?” 

Former United States Senator from Tennessee, Bill Frist, has called on Governor Bill Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate. “It will save lives, and it is the fastest way to get people back to work and our economy back on its feet.” Studies show that statewide mask mandates boost consumer spending in local businesses. When we know we can shop safely in a store we are less likely to shop online. I encourage you to write to the governor in support of this proposal. 

In Tennessee there are an estimated 675,000 people without health insurance, 1 out of every 10 people. Those with insurance do not always have the best policies. As my friend Tom Mullen once said to me, “My health insurance is like a hospital gown. Every time I turn around there is something not covered.” For this reason we can agree with our freedom loving Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin who said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We need leaders who will wear face masks and work for universal healthcare. Call me overly modest but I’d much rather cover my face than see my neighbor go with something uncovered.

(Chris Buice is minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church)