Adam Searing, associate professor of the practice at the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families, has worked for years with public policy groups around the country who focus on Medicaid and other health coverage and disability programs. As part of their work, these groups meet with public officials in their respective state capitol buildings, moving freely throughout the public areas as law and tradition encourage. Unfortunately, in 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions became politicized, cadres of anti-government groups carrying loaded automatic weapons flaunted COVID-19 protocols and physically intimidated peaceful participants in the legislative process. Searing started to hear about how advocates were afraid to exercise their rights to civic participation. The situation was particularly acute in Idaho, where anti-maskers eventually stormed the legislative chambers in an eerie preamble to the January 6 insurrection.
As Searing wrote, “So, should folks worried about facing heavily armed opponents or catching a deadly disease because no one is following safety protocols stay away from the policymaking process and not make their voices heard? These legislative bodies and other opponents shrug off these barriers to civic participation with the rationale that there isn’t a law requiring legislatures to adopt or enforce measures to make it safe for the public to attend. Actually, not only is there a law that says precisely this — the Americans with Disabilities Act — but also the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees Americans ‘the right of the people… to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’”