By Anna Harman
COVID-19 has impacted our lives for almost a year and a half. In recent months, vaccines for COVID-19 have been produced and have been recommended to citizens by many healthcare officials.
Now, the vaccines are beginning to be required for many schools, businesses, federal occupations, events, and the medical field. There are varying opinions on the many questions of whether the act of requiring the COVID-19 vaccines is threatening our constitutional rights.
Do schools, businesses, etc. have the authority to require vaccines? Does the federal government have the power to issue vaccine mandates? Should the President be able to order vaccine mandates without legislation by Congress? To answer these questions, thorough research on these subjects must be done.
Schools have required vaccinations for many years. There is nothing out of the ordinary about schools having requirements like this.
Dr. Caleb Smith, Director of the Center for Political Studies, said “State and local governments, as well as private entities, have full authority to do this, and they have used this authority for a long time in American history. The difference here, of course, is that President Biden’s actions are through the national government.”
When President Biden decided to enforce the vaccine mandates, he was depending on the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). It was created so that workers would be protected from hazardous working conditions. The act doesn’t go over vaccines specifically, so some might argue that courts could use that as evidence to support the choice to act in an emergency situation.
Although, OSHA does require that before requiring emergency action the proper steps must be taken. This act, however, doesn’t allow Biden the power to operate public health in general.
Dr. Mark Clauson, Professor of History and Law said, “It is likely unconstitutional, but also not in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and beyond the authority of OSHA statute as it is written and has been interpreted.”
It is true that the president has authority in emergency situations, such as the global pandemic that we have been in that has spread rapidly. The way that he has gone about establishing the mandates could be seen as controversial, though.
There was a Supreme Court case in 1905 titled Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Jacobson argued that the current vaccine mandates required by the local government were unjust because they violated his freedom. The court ruled that it was not violating any constitutional rights because the vaccine wasn’t being forced upon them. The only penalty was a $5 fine for refusing vaccination. They also concluded that local governments do have the right to require vaccination, assuming they don’t go against state law.
This is because they are making decisions that protect the community in emergency conditions. Some might argue that these mandates violate the 14th amendment which describes our “Rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity and the right to reject medical treatment.”
The court confirmed that the 14th amendment protected individual freedoms and so state power was limited occasionally. They also said that requiring vaccination wasn’t a violation of the amendment because, with evidence that receiving the vaccine would cause harm to their health or cause death, a person would be exempt from the mandate.
However, this case fails to address that while the state has the right to make decisions regarding public health, the federal government doesn’t. Without allowing the state governments to determine what decision is the most rational for the presented conditions, they can’t make judgments on public health.
Medical Director for Cedarville University, Misti Grimson said, “(There is a) historical precedent for vaccine mandates within healthcare and since healthcare providers are much more likely to come in contact with high-risk people, this justifies protecting the workers themselves against diseases which could potentially put their patients at risk.”
While she thinks that it is acceptable in a healthcare setting, she does believe that in other workplaces and schools, it is much less clear and so she would be less quick to advocate for mandates in these settings.
Smith said,” Private entities have full discretion to approach this how they see fit. Businesses can require the vaccine if they treat people equally as they require it. This is true for the medical field as well.”
It is arguable that the vaccine mandates may present privacy issues by requiring proof of vaccination in certain settings. It’s probable that the question of whether the vaccine mandates are constitutional will continue to be debated by citizens and governments across the country for the foreseeable future.
Anna Harman is a sophomore biblical studies major and a reporter for Cedars. She appreciates writing, getting coffee, and going to concerts.