MARTINSVILLE, Ind. — A debate on whether or not to ban mask and vaccine requirements is raging in one central Indiana city.
"This is about protecting personal liberty as established in the Constitution," Ben Merida told the Martinsville City Council Monday night.
Merida believes if the citizens of Martinsville want to wear masks or get the COVID-19 vaccine, it should be up to them, and he asked the city council to pass a law ensuring that for the people who call the city home.
"I am only asking the council to support and establish an ordinance that protects every Martinsville citizen and give each citizen the right to make their own health decisions," Merida added.
Martinsville City Attorney Dale Coffee advised not going forward with the proposal, citing measures already taken at the federal and state level.
In August, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said he wouldn't reinstate a statewide mask mandate or other restrictions, leaving the decision up to local governments, schools and businesses. In April, the state legislature passed a law banning the state or local governments from issuing or requiring a vaccine passport.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden issued a vaccine mandate for federal contractors and any employer nationwide with more than 100 employees.
Some, like Pastor David Zempel with Martinsville Baptist Tabernacle Church, felt the president’s mandate was an overreach.
"The last 18 months, we've seen ourselves lose liberties that I never thought would happen," said Zempel. "I'm willing to risk my life getting COVID to protect the freedoms that other people died for."
Councilman Josh Ferran said he'd be willing to look at Merida’s proposal.
"I know what my body can do. If I start feeling anything, I stay home," Ferran said. "It's my choice if I want to wear a mask or not, period.
"It should be everyone's choice — yes or no. If you want one, wear one. If you don't, don't."
Others took a different approach.
"When it comes right down to it, we're going to have to follow the law," said Councilwoman Suzie Lipps, who also agreed to be on a committee to consider the proposal.
"I don't think the government should mandate anything, but I don't think it's the role of the local municipalities to make the decisions, one way or the other," said Councilman Jim Wisco.
No decision was made Monday. A committee will study the proposal to decide if it should be brought before council for discussion and a vote.