In recent weeks, many places have required people to wear masks when entering. Close contact with others could transmit COVID without a mask. However, not everyone wants to. And some people with certain disabilities are unable to wear one. They might use a face shield instead, so it isn’t that they avoid all protection. However, some people created online sites saying one could fake a disability and avoid wearing a mask. Faking a disability for this purpose breaks at least three commandments and probably four. Also, the law is not on their side.
Several of these came about but one of the most well-known went by FTBA (Freedom to Breathe Agency) and had a logo resembling a US government agency. They presented a card one could print saying that the bearer was exempt due to a mask causing a mental or physical risk so the Americans with Disabilities Act exempted them and they need not disclose their condition. A disability rights lawyer pointed out (warning: language) that this card widely misunderstands the law and should not work as they claim, but we’ll get to laws at the end.
Thou Shall Not Kill
The fifth commandment is not just against killing but also includes things that will harm another or things that have a reasonable chance to harm or kill. Not wearing a mask when close to others is obviously in the last category. In fact, the Catechism says (2288), “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.”
The evidence seems strong that mask-wearing in close quarters does reduce spread by those pre-symptomatic with coronavirus. The claims they are ineffective are inaccurate. These claims generally come down masks’ effectiveness being below 100%, or forgetting that the main benefit is for those around a mask-wearer not for the mask wearer him 0r herself.
Whatever you think of the scientific research, those who fake a disability are breaking two or three other commandments.
Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness
These people are obviously lying about disability to get a certain benefit. Not liking a mask is not a disability. Almost nobody prefers wearing them, but we do it to protect others from infection.
Thou Shall Honor Your Father and Your Mother
Catholic teaching has attributed obedience to legitimate authority under this commandment. Whatever you think of masks, the state and/or businesses can ask you to wear one because they believe in masks’ efficiency. (They slow transmission as noted above.) Wearing a mask is not an intrinsically evil act and a legitimate authority can ask a minor inconvenience based on what that authority understands will improve public health. We should obey a speed limit (or close to it), even if we think that we can safely go 20-30 mph over. When a mask is mandated because the vast majority of experts recommend it to reduce coronavirus spread, it is a just law that should be obeyed. Regulations vary, so in some places, wearing no mask does not break this commandment.
Thou Shall not Steal
This one might not seem as obvious. But when these people present these fake cards, they steal the time of two groups of people. First, they steal the time of the employee who needs to check regulations and explain to them that this isn’t valid. Second, when a person who legitimately has a disability comes in, it takes them (or their caregiver) extra time to get their accommodation acknowledged. A large number of fake claims leads stores to check more vigorously when a disabled person makes a claim.
I will quote from Matthew Cortland, a disability rights lawyer, here as he is more an expert on these laws. He notes that the ADA requires stores or similar places to make a reasonable modification. In other words, they “must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination.”
Matthew gives examples that would not be required as a reasonable accommodation and those that would be reasonable. First, the unreasonable: “Is it ‘let johnny, who is coughing up a lung, is febrile, and who, a week ago, licked a bucket full of COVID19 samples walk around the store without an PPE?’ Hell no.” On the other hand, he notes, “The store could reasonably modify the ‘you must wear a mask’ policy by allowing the disabled shopper to wear a good face shield.” He also notes that the wording of the card not having to disclose is inaccurate: “The store can ask for that favorite of every disabled person: medical documentation!” Another type of accommodation in a store might be that someone who can wear neither a mask or face shield gives a staff member their list and the staff member shops for them then delivers it to their car.
I hope none of you are tempted to fake a disability to avoid a mask. Those people with disabilities are finding it particularly difficult to get accommodations when others are faking it. Can we please have charity to the least of these brothers and sisters? Can we also practice charity to those who are at a higher risk if they get COVID-19? Wearing a mask is not so much to protect the wearer’s health but others in case we are pre-symptomatic. Let’s help each other!
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- I am Catholic, so use Catholic numbering on the commandments. The Protestant numbers are one higher. (Catholics combine “thou shall have no other Gods” and “thou shall make no graven images” [1 and 2 for Protestants]; while Protestants combine “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” and “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s stuff” [9 and 10 for Catholics]. The content of the ten is the same.)