Vaccine mandates remain in the national spotlight as the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments today on consolidated cases regarding the Biden Administration’s executive branch actions. These particular cases present the question of whether to stay (or temporarily halt) enforcement of the vaccine mandates until the Court can consider the merits of whether federal agencies are legally permitted to issue such mandates.
Although not at issue in this round of cases, of interest to me is the question of whether our nation has turned its back on constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty by allowing the almighty government to dictate medical interventions opposed by some citizens on religious grounds. It appears so, based on two Supreme Court (in)actions to date.
- A Maine state order required all healthcare workers be vaccinated and did not offer the ability to refuse the vaccine due to religious objections. In John Does 1-3, et.al. v. Mills, the United States Supreme Court denied the healthcare workers a review for injunctive relief. Kudos to Justice Gorsuch for his dissent. (October 2021)
- A New York order not only declined to provide a religious exemption to the healthcare worker vaccine mandate, it also prohibited fired religious dissenters from collecting unemployment benefits. Again, the Supreme Court declined to intervene. And, again, Justice Gorsuch penned a dissent in defense of religious liberty. (December 2021)
Liberty of conscience is, of course, one of our nation’s foundational principles. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain.” Likewise, in his 1790 letter to the Jewish community of Newport, President George Washington equated personal religious belief with “freedom of conscience,” a right to be protected, not abridged, by government. A year later, Washington’s sentiments were constitutionally codified in the Bill of Rights.
James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, called conscience “the most sacred of all property” and “the centerpiece of all civil liberties.” These principles became the first right in the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There are other religious liberty cases working their way through the judicial system. I hope our court of last resort chooses to take such a case and remind the political branches that they must not take actions that violate our First Freedom.