The foundational principle behind the Declaration of Independence is to allow for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Today offers a rare moment in history when those three concepts seem at odds with one another. 

That conflict led to protests over the weekend in Salt Lake City and other parts of the nation, involving people who either don’t understand the seriousness of a pandemic and the emergency measures needed to prevent its spread, or who believe liberty and the pursuit of happiness should outweigh life.

Clearly, both are dangerous problems. Many Americans have a natural instinct to defy authority, but this is not the time for rebellion. It is a time for cooperation and compassion. It is a time to trust medical experts and institutions, and the politicians who take their advice and impose, or in many cases simply suggest, restrictions.

One of the unique beauties of this nation’s founding documents is that they elevate the value of human life. The U.S. Constitution entrusts power to the people, not to the state or a ruling class. The Declaration lists life as the first inalienable right, whereas most other nations prior to that time had treated people as subjects with few definable rights and little recourse against corruption or its consequences. 

Life is the ultimate gift, and its protection must be paramount among government’s duties. In a contest between life and a vibrant economy, the choice is clear.

While health experts still have much to learn about COVID-19, its remarkable ability to spread and the agonizing death it inflicts on a small percentage of its victims, is readily evident. Death comes after patients lose the ability to breathe and the virus attacks their vital organs. Victims range through all age groups.

New York City is undergoing a crisis of unfathomable proportions. Utah is not, and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told the Deseret News/KSL editorial board Monday this is because people largely have followed social distancing guidelines and have, to a large extent, stayed home. Utahns are flattening the curve.

They have done this in response to official directives, as opposed to more stringent orders that exist in some parts of the country. But success in a pandemic can lead some to question the premise behind restrictions in the first place. That is a mistake.

In interviews, the protesters on Saturday raised many valid concerns. Unemployment is high. People who lose jobs are vulnerable to depression. The same is true for people who are isolated from human contact day after day. People need money.

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But the woman who told a Deseret News reporter, “We should all have the agency to choose how healthy we want to be,” was dead wrong. In a pandemic such as this, your decision whether to socially isolate or wear a mask may directly affect the health of other people. It is an exercise of liberty that affects the right to life.

Many at Saturday’s protest were interacting in ways that could only be termed reckless, given present circumstances. 

Rest assured, these days will not last forever, although a level of restrictions, including social distancing, may be necessary for some time. In the meantime, people have a duty to help one another. Churches and charitable institutions offer relief from economic distress, as do government programs. Americans must triumph through cooperation, not defiance and rebellion.

To open the economy too soon, to ignite a wildfire of new infections, would be a grave threat to life and liberty and happiness.