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Press Release Published: Jun 22, 2023

Hearing Wrap-Up: U.S. Government Has a Responsibility to Protect Constitutionally Guaranteed Freedoms in Times of Crisis

WASHINGTON — The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a hearing titled “Churches vs. Casinos: The Constitution is not Suspended in Times of Crisis” to examine the constitutionality of federal, state, and local actions during the COVID-19 pandemic that infringed on the civil liberties of Americans. Select Subcommittee members asked expert witnesses about intentional violations of First Amendment freedoms, inquired about arbitrary mandates that harmed Americans’ well-being, and demanded accountability from government officials who blatantly disregarded God-given rights enshrined in the Constitution. Leading legal officials from Missouri, Louisiana, and Wisconsin testified to numerous court cases proving the unconstitutionality of wide-sweeping mandates and suspension of religious freedoms. Members and witnesses drew from Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Neil Gorsuch’s recent opinion in Arizona v. Mayorkas to condemn emergency decrees and criticize the unequal application of the law that occurred throughout the government. The Select Subcommittee is committed to fully investigating egregious bureaucratic overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic as an essential step towards preventing future threats to our democracy, freedoms, and civil liberties.

Key Takeaways

Governments at the federal, local, and state levels did not uphold their constitutional responsibility to protect civil liberties and defend personal freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Honorable Andrew Bailey, Attorney General of Missouri, argued that federal government officials deliberately infringed on First Amendment rights though a coordinated effort to censor free speech: “Missouri partnered with the state of Louisiana and private plaintiffs to file a landmark lawsuit against dozens of officials in the federal government to stop the biggest violation of the First Amendment in this nation’s history. My office obtained more than 20,000 pages of evidence detailing extraordinary censorship efforts by a variety of officials within the federal government. My office also deposed key witnesses, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and officials from the FBI, State Department, Department of Homeland Security Office of the Surgeon General and the CDC. The evidence that we’ve uncovered only begins to scratch the surface of these First Amendment violations…Justice Gorsuch recently opined that federal officials may have pressured social media companies to suppress information about the pandemic policies with which they disagreed. The 20,000 plus pages of documents my office has uncovered reveal that Justice Gorsuch’s suspicions are, in fact, a sobering reality.”

Mr. Misha Tseytlin, Former Solicitor General of Wisconsin and Partner at Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, detailed the hypocrisy and unconstitutionality of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s treatment of the Jewish community: “We had Muslim-American groups who came to support an amicus brief in support of us that said this targeting of religious minorities, blaming them for the pandemic, is the kind of thing that we’ve seen throughout history. And that was what Governor Cuomo was doing to the Orthodox Jewish community that led to these unconstitutional restrictions, which the US Supreme Court struck down.”

Tyrannical lockdowns, violations of free speech, suspensions of religious freedoms, harmful school closures, and unscientific masking and vaccine mandates stripped Americans of their constitutionally protected freedoms.

The Honorable Elizabeth Murrill, Solicitor General of Louisiana, highlighted the blatant bureaucratic overreach through the use of executive orders by identifying numerous constitutional violations and reminding Americans that Congress should be in charge of creating laws: “Governors suspended laws without any legislative approval over and over again, made completely irrational decisions, and claimed autocratic power to justify bad decisions. So did the President. Police officers enforced crimes that were made up through executive orders, never created by the legislatures or Congress. The President issued invasive, unprecedented vaccine mandates that impacted nearly 100 million people and billions of dollars in contracts to try and force people to make a decision that was inherently theirs based on very, very new emerging science and research that was actually, now we know, to be inhibited by the government in terms of allowing full debate of that science.”

Mr. Misha Tseytlin opened his testimony by describing four cases of unprecedented assault on American civil liberties that his firm won on behalf of their clients — specifically highlighting an unconstitutional school closure in Wisconsin: “St. Ambrose is a small, Catholic secondary school in Wisconsin, which spent tens of thousands of dollars to comply with Dane County’s school reopening plan throughout the summer of 2020. Yet, as the school year approached, the county began worried that parents of public-school kids were choosing in-person, private schooling, causing the county to match per pupil state funding. So, Dane County abruptly ordered all of these private schools closed for third grade and older, just three days before the first day of class. We brought suit and won, allowing these kids to have a full year of in-person instruction when so many kids missed out on the opportunity.”

The Biden White House and other government agencies coordinated directly with social media companies to censor opinions that criticized their COVID-19 narrative.

Hon. Andrew Bailey exposed the direct censorship of dissenting COVID-19 opinions that were presented as evidence in Missouri’s lawsuit against the Biden Administration: “There was an active suppression campaign as detailed in email exchanges between, at a minimum, the White House and big tech social media corporations from March to May of 2021, as recited by one of the other members and offered as evidence in our suit that demonstrate that the target of the suppression was anyone that questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

Hon. Andrew Bailey explained the extreme actions taken by the Biden Administration to appear neutral by simply outsourcing their censorship activities: “The federal government itself recognizes the legal problems with its actions. In an attempt to make it harder to detect their blatant legal violation, officials have begun outsourcing their censorship activities to pseudo-private organizations. Emails obtained revealed that officials believe this structure will help them evade liability under the First Amendment. But any federal attempt to censor speech is still unconstitutional. The government cannot do by indirect means what it would be prohibited from doing directly.”

Member Highlights

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) revealed unconstitutional efforts by the Biden Administration to collude with big tech companies and censor Americans’ free speech on social media.

Chairman Wenstrup: “Did the Biden White House attempt to strong-arm big tech companies to censor free speech?”

Hon. Bailey: “Unequivocally, yes. It’s in times of national emergency when we must be most vigilant to protect our fundamental rights, the rights given to us by God and codified, enshrined in the United States Constitution. And contrary to that principle, the Biden Administration coerced and colluded with big tech social media to silence American voices in relation to the pandemic.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) asked former Wisconsin Solicitor General about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s arbitrary lockdown orders that cherry-picked “essential gatherings” based on political preferences.

Rep. Malliotakis: “Can you speak to the hypocrisy of Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s treatment of religious groups compared to other secular groups and the protesters?”

Mr. Tseytlin: “They had exclusions for essential businesses and essential gatherings that were not based on even on their own claims that it was risk-based. And we asked them, what are essential gatherings? Why are other gatherings more essential than religious worship? They couldn’t tell us. We said, what are even essential gatherings? They couldn’t even tell us what this category of essential gatherings was that was favored over religious worship.

“I guess we learned that attending a football game is more essential than worshiping.”

Rep. John Joyce, M.D. (R-Pa.) highlighted the prioritization of multibillion dollar companies over small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic that harmed American families and America’s economy.

Rep. Joyce: “This hearing is about examining the constitutionality of federal, state, and local government actions in their response to COVID 19. Is there any sound justification for any of these three levels of government to prioritize a multibillion-dollar company like Target over the small businesses that are the backbone of so many communities?”

Hon. Murrill: “None. And it does enormous damage to our country to destroy those small businesses and leaves standing only these big box businesses where you’ve taken out really what is the backbone of our communities, the small businesses that operate across the country.”

Joyce: “I agree. And I think that’s the purpose of this Select Subcommittee to shine a light on these problems that have been created by these mandates.”

Rep. Rich McCormick, M.D. (R-Ga.) points out the Biden Administration’s use of divisive and unscientific masking mandates which sparked public distrust in our federal government.

Rep. McCormick: “Can you also elaborate on the constitutionality of the forced mandates of masks by federal, state and local governments?”

Hon. Bailey: “When we see forced mask mandates that aren’t backed up by science or evidence, when we see the suppression of conversations about the effectiveness of masks, those undermine the rule of law and they reduce the credibility of the outcome of the conversation because it’s an unfair debate. It’s a one-sided debate. And when the government uses its heavy hand to suppress that speech, people cease to trust the outcomes and it undermines the rule of law and faith and confidence in the government.”

Rep. McCormick: “So you would consider it unconstitutional.”

Hon. Bailey: “In many instances.”

Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) exposed a clear cover-up campaign promoted by public health authorities that suppressed COVID-19 origins information and vilified the lab leak hypothesis.

Rep. Comer: “Do you believe that CDC or other government officials worked with private companies to influence the censorship of information about the origins of COVID 19?”

Hon. Bailey: “Absolutely.”

Rep. Comer: “Did they ever recommend or encourage censoring posts suggesting that COVID-19 may have come from a lab?”

Hon. Bailey: “Yes.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) asked Louisiana Solicitor General about the unequal application of law regarding COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that threated religious freedom.

Rep. Lesko: “Miss Murrill, do you think it is just for the government to keep casinos like Caesar’s Palace open but shut down or severely restrict churches?”

Hon. Murrill: “Absolutely not. And, we have had a lot of testimony this morning talking about the broad justification for some of these mandates. Remember, this went on for three years. It didn’t just stop and start and stop in the beginning. And they didn’t evolve downward in terms of less restrictions. They were broader and broader and broader. And so it was never neutral to say that you can — ten people can gather in a checkout line at Lowe’s, but they can’t stand together in church. That’s not neutral. That is arbitrary.”