ST. GEORGE — Hundreds of Southern Utah residents attended a rally in front of the Washington County School District offices Friday morning to protest Gov. Gary Herbert’s mandatory mask mandate for schools.
Organized by the recently founded Liberty Action Coalition, the “End the Mask Mandate Rally” was put together and advertised online about two weeks ago, coalition chair Patricia Kent said.
On their Facebook Page the coalition describes themselves as follows:
The Liberty Action Coalition is a union of individuals and groups committed to the U.S. Constitution and its principles.
We act to educate others, support Constitutional public policies, and elect officials who follow the Constitution.
The coalition was formed about a month ago and, Kent said, it already has well over 1,000 members.
The morning drew a large crowd of people who came to protest children wearing masks in school, something Kent said she believes is a violation of constitutional liberties and a person’s right to choose what to do with their own health and body.
“People are waking up. They’re tired of the government thinking that they’re in charge,” Kent said. “We are the government. The Constitution gives us that right. It gives us the right to elect officials to do our bidding, and they’re not doing our bidding.”
Kent said it is now their turn to step up and act as the government until elected officials, including the governor, start to listen.
“Until then, we don’t have to listen to them. We have a constitutional right to take care of our own bodies and our own lives,” she added.
Speaking to the crowd of attendees – many bearing signs reading “my body, my choice” and “end the tyranny” – Kent said the Constitution does not give governors the right to make laws, and that a mandate, such as wearing masks in school, is not law.
“A school district and a school board does not have the power to make law,” Kent added.
Additionally, Kent, speaking over a megaphone, told the crowd that a health department – which is not a lawmaking entity either, she said – does not have the right to tell people what they can or cannot do with their body.
To that end, rally attendee Dustin Cox, who also spoke over the megaphone, encouraged district students in attendance Friday to not wear a mask when they return to school Monday, even if it means getting expelled.
“I was encouraging all of the students to not wear masks at all and encouraging them to meet with their principals if that’s what it takes, and to get expelled from school,” Cox said about his speech at the rally.
“If we can get more of those numbers and more of those rebellious students against their violation of freedom then it will be much more likely to have success,” he added.
Cox said the rally was nice and all the speeches and personal stories told were nice, but now is the time for action.
“I’m going to go in and talk to all of my kids’ principals and show them the law that is written, it’s Utah law, and say ‘My kids will no longer wear masks, and if you want a lawsuit, I’ll give it to you,'” Cox said.
While the rally was ostensibly about the mask mandate, with many parents and students carrying signs asking not to be “muzzled,” the overarching theme of those in attendance was what they felt was a fight for their freedom.
Speaking at the rally, Southern Utah business owner Adam Stuart said it wasn’t a mask battle but a freedom battle.
Like Cox, Stuart encouraged those in attendance to stand up for their values and get uncomfortable.
“Get uncomfortable. Be peaceful, but get uncomfortable,” Stuart said. “We better stand up in a way that conservatives can be proud of.”
While the gathering was largely peaceful, tensions rose when a school district employee asked rally-goers not to block the entrance to the district building.
Some in attendance started shouting and a few became aggressive, demanding entrance to the school district offices saying it was “their building” and that the rally was now going to be held inside.
Organizers and attendees, along with St. George Police Department personnel in attendance, quickly diffused the situation and the rally continued without further incident.
Speaking on the incident, Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, championed attendees’ rights to protest and thanked those who stepped in to deescalate the situation and apologize for the actions of the few.
“You have a right to protest. Perfect. Do it. But do it within boundaries,” Dunham said.
Dunham did add that he felt protestors chose the wrong location to hold their rally since the school district didn’t create the mask mandate, they are simply following it in order to do what they think is best, which is allow kids to be in school.
“Our goal is to help children, and in the end, we will do what is in the best interest of the student,” Dunham said, adding that if wearing a mask is what it takes to keep schools open and kids in school, that is what the district will do.
Dunham praised district teachers and staff for their actions in serving the children of Washington County by returning to the classroom and schools despite fears for their own health and the health of their families.
“I wish these people (rally attendees) would consider the teachers and staff members who may have family with health concerns,” Dunham said. “Those masks may help that teacher or their family members stay safe. It is in some ways very disrespectful to the hard work of these teachers.”
After several speeches, attendees marched around the district offices chanting “no more masks,” after which they gathered on and around the steps in prayer.
The Liberty Action Coalition is organizing a rally protesting mandatory masks in grocery stores and other businesses Monday at 9 a.m. on the sidewalk outside Harmon’s Grocery Store, 1189 E. 700 South, St. George.
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