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Staff photo by Sarah Grace Taylor / Protesters gather at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Sunday, July 12, 2020, to protest a recent face mask mandate.

A few dozen protesters gathered in Chattanooga on Sunday to protest Hamilton County's face-mask mandate. While opposition to the mandate was universal, reasons varied from protecting rights and doubting government authority to denying the severity of COVID-19 and fearing the end of days.

The roughly 40 protesters gathered at the Hamilton County Courthouse to voice concerns about an order issued by the health department last week, requiring masks or face coverings be worn by most adults in most public situations within the county through Sept. 8.

Facing a class C misdemeanor charge, a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail for non-compliance, residents of Hamilton and some surrounding counties protested the order by attending the rally, almost all of them violating mask and social distancing requirements spelled out in the order.

(READ MORE: What you need to know about Hamilton County's mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic)

For many, it boils down to a fear of government overreach and protecting individual rights.

"It's pretty simple, God gave us freedoms, and he didn't make me with a mask on my face, so I don't think anyone has the right or the ability or the right to mandate that we have to wear one," said Joshua Fortner, who attended the rally with his wife and four children. "I think we should be working on boosting our immune systems and not living in fear."

One child held a sign which read "masks are just the start." Another man told the child that mandated vaccinations, embedded microchips and ultimately death were next on the government's agenda.

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Staff photo by Sarah Grace Taylor / Robert Bean of Hamilton County protests a recent mask mandate on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Bean believes mandating facial coverings is an overreaction to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Others attended because they doubt the legitimacy of death tallies and case counts associated with the virus as reported by the government and news media.

"Our hospitals are not overloaded. The only place you're going to hear that is on the mainstream media," said Robert Bean, wearing a MAGA mask around his neck to show support for President Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again slogan. "It's not as bad as they say that it is, so no, I don't think I should have to wear a mask."

Several others also spoke out about their concerns that the virus was made up or exaggerated by the media and government. Others believe that it is an intentional conspiracy tied to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with the intention of mandating vaccinations or that microchipping citizens and restricting commerce of citizens who refuse to wear a government-mandated accessory echoes the "mark of the beast" in Christian scripture, which signifies the end of days.

"Eventually the mark of the beast will be to take away the ability for people to provide for their families by not being able to buy, sell or trade without the mark," Fortner said, as one of many protesters compared the mandate to the book of Revelations. "So they're forcing me to comply to provide."

Whatever the rationale, most protesters said they refuse to wear a mask and will either violate the order when allowed or will shop in other counties.

The event organizer, Christina Charles of Chattanooga, told the Times Free Press that the event was "productive" and that standing up against government overreach was "better than staying at home doing nothing."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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