House rules against obligation to obey mask policies at Dumb Ox Debate

Edyta Wolk


Students, professors and community members packed the Gentile Gallery Sunday, March 21, for the latest Dumb Ox Debate addressing the motion “This house believes that wearing a mask is a virtuous sign of obedience.”

Sophomore Daniel Gonzalez opened the floor with a speech affirming the motion. Gonzalez emphasized that wearing a mask is not virtuous in and of itself but rather “insofar as it is an act of obedience.”

“The question is not whether the mandate is a good one,” he said.

Gonzalez referenced Romans 13:1-7 and noted that St. Paul urged the early Christians to continue paying taxes to Rome despite being persecuted by that same government.

“St. Paul made it abundantly clear that we should be obeying temporal authority … as long as it’s not telling us to deny our faith or do something gravely immoral,” said Gonzalez.

Senior Lucy Sammons followed Gonzalez with a speech dissenting from the motion, arguing that obedience is due only to proper authorities.

The two parts of obedience, said Sammons, are “who is commanding and what is being commanded.”

Sammons drew from St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of owing obedience to authorities only when they are acting within their proper “sphere of authority.” She gave the example of being told by your boss to wash your dishes when you get home – this directive does not demand obedience because it applies to an action outside of your boss’s sphere of authority.

She argued that obedience to government mask mandates is not owed because the government does not have the authority to make such mandates.

The next affirming speech was made by sophomore John Macdonald, who urged those who disagree with COVID-19 policies not to refuse to wear masks just to make a political statement.

“This is not an infringement on anybody’s rights,” said Macdonald, because it is not against any moral precepts. There are ways to speak out against the mandate without defying it, he argued.

“We should be wearing masks if it is asked of us,” he said.

The fourth and final formal speech was given by senior Paul Denley, who opposed the motion. Denley focused on the aspect of the motion identifying mask-wearing as a “virtuous” act of obedience.

“Virtue is the habitual choosing of the good within right reason,” he said.

“Virtue is not the same thing as habitual obedience to an extrinsic law,” he said, because virtue requires one to understand and consciously choose the good. For that reason, even if wearing a mask is an act of obedience, it is not a virtuous one.

Denley also reiterated the argument that mask mandates were imposed illegitimately by an illegitimate authority. “I don’t trust the authority that is telling us to wear masks.”

The floor was then opened to audience members, and most speeches made throughout the night opposed the motion.

Stephen Sammut, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience and serves as a professor of psychology at the university, argued against the motion by listing different statistics highlighting the low death rate associated with COVID-19 and the low effectiveness of mask-wearing.

“There’s no justification for the mask wearing,” said Sammut. “It is only instilling harm.”

At the end of the night, the house voted to oppose the motion, with 8% affirming, 90% opposing, and 2% abstaining.

This event was hosted by the Veritas Society.