Back in March, uncertainty and the fear that millions might die from COVID-19 led states across the country to shutter businesses and ban public gatherings. The response across the country varied significantly, as most governors and their chosen public health tsars systematically shut down businesses, banned public gatherings, and imposed all manner of other restrictions on their respective states.

State legislatures have been remarkably muted. However, the time for unilateral public health mandates has passed. As the Wisconsin Supreme Court rightly recognized, legislatures need to be included in this process, and “the governor cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely.” We’re almost five months into this pandemic, and still, legislatures across the country, including Congress, have not properly engaged in policy decisions.

The Bill of Rights has been willfully ignored by some, and it is fair to question whether the constitutional right to a republican form of government is being infringed, as state leaders consolidate power under public health orders. In April, when asked about arresting a group worshiping at a synagogue, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said, “The Bill of Rights is above my pay grade,” and insisted that “we have to find a different way to worship.” But in June, after the murder of George Floyd, Murphy said, “We respect completely your right to protest, particularly given the gravity of why folks are protesting.”

You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to recognize that the right to protest and the right to worship are both protected by the First Amendment. However, similar to Murphy, many leaders across the country have determined that some First Amendment rights are more important than others. I agree with Murphy on protecting the right to protest peacefully, but he needs to apply the same thought process to faithful New Jerseyans who wish to practice their faith.

The First Amendment isn’t the only part of the Bill of Rights to suffer during this pandemic.

Across the country, small-business owners and their employees have had their livelihoods hinge on the arbitrary designation of being deemed a so-called “essential business.” Some state bureaucracies have designated that liquor stores are essential businesses, but gun shops are nonessential, threatening Second Amendment rights even while encouraging purchases that are proven to be harmful to long-term health. Similarly, big-box retailers such as Walmart remained open, but smaller, mom-and-pop shops were forced to close their doors.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan took this exercise in “essential” designations to the extreme — closing hair salons but allowing pet groomers to remain open. Campgrounds were closed even though they are conducive to social distancing. Similarly, the use of motorized watercraft was banned, but kayaking and canoeing were still permitted under Whitmer’s orders. Not only are these arbitrary decisions an affront to liberty and the distinctions an insult to common sense, but they are an intolerable violation of a person's right to use his or her private property and to travel, especially when the risk to those fishing or boating is so low.

Disruption to commerce comes at a cost. Ask restaurant and bar owners, hairstylists, small retailers, and even real estate professionals. They’ve all had their movement and their operations impeded without due process, and the government hasn’t compensated them for the loss of their income or businesses. Instead of listening with compassion or more carefully tailoring her stay-at-home orders, Gov. Whitmer wrote off their legitimate economic concerns and told her constituents to Google how to cut their own hair.

The train of abuses goes on through this pandemic as unelected public health officials and state executives continue to restrict citizens’ most basic freedoms. By refusing even to consult the legislatures, these executive actors have effectively denied the people a republican form of government, as guaranteed by the Constitution.

That’s why I’m introducing my bill, the Defending Freedom Act, to empower the Justice Department to investigate and end these unconstitutional orders. Civil rights should not be superseded by a national emergency.

My bill would instruct the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute cases in which civil rights have been wrongly curtailed by broad public health orders or overzealous bureaucrats. It also requires the department to compile a report to Congress on these cases and determine the legality of business closures and stay-at-home orders.

State and local governments can and should take steps to protect citizens during this pandemic. However, it is possible to do that while still respecting our God-given rights. Rural communities and urban communities have different needs and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why the president is empowering governors.

Yet governors, too, should not abuse the public trust. They should consult with other elected representatives to right-size the public health response and reassure the public that the government is protecting the people's rights, not abusing them.

This opinion piece appeared in the Washington Examiner