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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

OPINION: Men’s Basketball just won’t back down
Abigail Taylor, Contributing writer • February 27, 2024

Burgers, John Stuart Mill And An Absence Of Masks

Ike%E2%80%99s+Korner+Grille%2C+a+local+Spartanburg+restaurant+taking+the+state+to+court.
Ike’s Korner Grille, a local Spartanburg restaurant taking the state to court.

Former Wofford professor takes stand for local restaurant fighting mask order

Neil Rodgers, owner of Ike’s Korner Grille, a well-known local Spartanburg establishment, has filed a lawsuit against Governor Henry McMaster and the state of South Carolina over the mask mandate applicable to all S.C. businesses. In their court hearing a number of weeks ago, a former Wofford professor spoke on their behalf.

Frank Machovec, former professor emeritus of Economics at Wofford College, was contacted by a former student of his, attorney-at-law Robert Merting, who is representing Ike’s owner Neil Rodgers in the suit, saying the mask order is impermissible on grounds that it violates the South Carolina state constitution. 

Machovec explained that as a consulting expert witness, it was his job to think of ways to argue Ike’s case, even if he did not necessarily agree with their position. Citing philosopher John Stuart Mill, Machovec commented on the necessity of criticizing one’s own ideals as a boon to free-thinking and validating one’s argument, “Your moral responsibility is to be a defender of ideas, especially the ideas with which you disagree; that you must become what’s called a devil’s advocate. Because the only way to test whether you are right…is to do everything you can to destroy your own argument.” 

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This is important to Machovec, a self-described “persona non grata” at the college, “So I agreed to be the devil’s advocate, to support Ike’s even though in my heart, I figured, I think he’s wrong. Public health requirements are such that when you have a contagious disease…if I don’t use a mask or I don’t take certain steps, I’m now not just making myself…I’m contaminating others.”

Terms such as “government overreach” and “infringement of rights” are often thrown around in cases such as the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where contention around how much the federal, state and local governments should/can enforce. Machovec likened this overreaction to that of the anti-vaccination movement, “The prevention of harm to others gives the state a right to say, ‘You must not do this.’”

Machovec granted that the science and research on preventative measures and other aspects of the pandemic are imperfect, but it is imperative to ask the question, “With the information we have, what’s the wisest thing to do?”

In court, Machovec argued unlike a franchise such as Applebees, who can cut down the customer accommodation by 50% and remain afloat, even if not making much profit, a local establishment is not afforded the same luxuries. Asides from this, the function of these two different business models are uniquely separate, “You have to understand the purpose of a business like Ike’s. It’s not to ‘serve food’ to people. You are serving them a validation of their cultural heritage.” 

Despite serving as a devil’s advocate, Machovec pointed out he does believe this assertion wholeheartedly, but doesn’t claim this truly supersedes the health argument, “but it’s the job of the other attorney to say the health argument trumps that.” 

The recently retired professor of economics elaborated on his cultural heritage comment, “You go into their parking lot and you know right away you’re not at Applebees. Three-fourths of the vehicles are big, oversized pickup trucks, the kind Jesus Christ would not be driving in an environment concerned about earth-warming. 

I said, ‘and a lot of them have Trump flags on them, and almost all of them have a rifle on the back window rack.’ This is a dying subculture, whom a former presidential candidate-I didn’t name her-classified as the deplorables, and these people know that they are considered outcasts by the types of people sitting in this courtroom, adjudicating this case, and they like to gather together to feel a sense of community…a sense of fellowship.”

Machovec’s argument in court boiled down to the essence that this demographic—the kind that constitutes Ike’s customer base, is dwindling, but those left value a place like Ike’s Korner Grille as essential to their sense of a nuclear community.   

Ike’s Korner Grille declined to comment for this article.

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