bookmark_borderBiden urges companies to violate employees’ rights in response to SCOTUS ruling

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the federal vaccine mandate for companies with over 100 employees, Joe Biden unsurprisingly made some authoritarian comments.

Here is what Biden said:

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law. This emergency standard allowed employers to require vaccinations or to permit workers to refuse to be vaccinated, so long as they were tested once a week and wore a mask at work: a very modest burden. As a result of the Court’s decision, it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated. The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy. I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including one third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”

First of all, although not the least bit surprising given that the vaccine mandate was instituted by OSHA at Biden’s urging, it’s still difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could be disappointed at a ruling protecting individual rights from an egregious violation. It’s notable that Biden made no mention of morality, individual rights, or liberty in his address. He describes vaccine mandates as “life-saving,” “common-sense,” and “grounded squarely in both science and the law.” These things might be true (although the majority of the SCOTUS justices would disagree with the “grounded in the law” part), but none of them make it okay to require people to get a vaccine as a condition of employment. Doing so violates people’s rights and is therefore morally wrong. But clearly, the rights of individuals to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives are not particularly important to Biden.

It is telling that Biden characterizes the decision of whether individual businesses are going institute vaccine mandates as a decision about making businesses safe for employees and consumers and protecting people’s health and the economy. The debate over vaccine mandates is fundamentally a question of whether or not businesses are going to violate the rights of their employees. Although health, safety, and a booming economy are all good things to have, none of these things is as important as protecting individual rights. (With regards to Biden’s point about protecting workers, customers, and communities, I believe that forcing workers to do something they do not want to do is the opposite of protecting them, as I explained in a previous blog post.) Contrary to what Biden claims, instituting vaccine mandates is not “the right thing,” but the wrong thing. Instituting vaccine mandates is not “stepping up,” as Biden characterizes it, but rather an act of aggression against employees.

Thanks to the First Amendment, Biden does have a legal right to use his voice to encourage businesses to do the wrong thing. He does have a legal right to advocate that companies violate the rights of their employees. But that does not make it morally right of him to do so. 

The most disturbing part of Biden’s comments was his characterization of the vaccine-or-test requirement as a “very modest burden.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither shots nor Covid tests are particularly invasive medical procedures, but that does not make it okay to require them as a condition of employment. Requiring people to provide documentation that they’ve undergone a medical procedure is demeaning, degrading, and dehumanizing. It takes away privacy, it takes away liberty, and it takes away human dignity. When an employer has the power to decide what medical interventions an individual person must get, that individual person is deprived of the right to govern his/her body and his/her life. What is at issue here is not a specific vaccine, nor the act of having one’s nose swabbed. It is the concept of bodily autonomy and self-ownership. It is the fundamental right to make one’s own medical decisions, and that includes the right to decline any medical intervention. Although getting a shot or getting one’s nose swabbed may not be a big deal in itself, the loss of the freedom to independently make medical decisions is absolutely a big deal.

To be forced to submit to medical procedures in order to keep one’s job means to lose one’s dignity, one’s autonomy, and one’s ownership of one’s body. This is far from a “modest burden.”

bookmark_borderThoughts on the Supreme Court ruling

Like everyone who believes in respecting people’s fundamental rights and dignity, I was relieved by the Supreme Court’s ruling declaring unconstitutional the OSHA rule requiring businesses with over 100 employees to force their employees to undergo medical procedures. For this rule to have gone into effect would have been a tragedy, a grave injustice, and an unprecedented disaster for individual liberty. 

Here are a few of my thoughts on the ruling: 

First of all, as many people have pointed out, the ruling did not go far enough. The court upheld the federal policy requiring the Covid vaccine for all employees at medical places that accept Medicare and/or Medicaid funds. This is unjust and wrong because it eliminates an entire career field as a possibility for people who value their dignity, their privacy, and their right to make their own medical decisions. But at least the ability to work at a company with 100 or more employees is not completely eliminated, as the Biden administration was attempting to do.

Second, the ruling established merely that OSHA does not have the power to require businesses to force their employees to undergo medical procedures. The ruling does nothing to bar Congress from enacting such a policy, let alone states, cities, or individual companies. This is disturbing. In my opinion, no one has a right to require medical procedures as a condition of doing anything. Neither Congress nor states nor cities nor individual companies should be able to enact such a requirement. If the United States was truly a free country, the federal government would take the initiative to protect individual liberty by enacting a law banning medical mandates by any entity.

Defenders of the OSHA rule have argued that the provision giving employees the option of getting a Covid test every week in lieu of the vaccine addresses concerns about medical liberty. I strongly disagree with this claim. Covid vaccination and Covid tests are both medical procedures. And the OSHA rule would have required employees at companies with over 100 workers to do one or the other. Telling someone, “It’s fine not to do this medical procedure; you just have to do this other medical procedure instead ” is completely unacceptable, because it eliminates the option of doing neither. The right to decline medical procedures is fundamental and absolute. It cannot be taken away under any circumstances. Some people consider Covid tests less objectionable than vaccination. But that does not matter. People have a fundamental right to do neither. The OSHA rule would have taken that right away.

Another observation is that many people have characterized the debate over the OSHA rule as a question of employers’ rights. Many people argue that the rule violates the rights of companies by forcing them to be the “vaccine police” for their employees. This is true, but in my opinion the more fundamental problem with the OSHA rule is that it violates employees’ rights. By forcing companies to violate their workers’ rights, the federal government is certainly harming companies, but it is more fundamentally harming workers, because they are the ones being forced to get unwanted medical procedures. 

As the majority of the justices pointed out, the fundamental reason why the OSHA rule is wrong is that it invades employees’ private lives. Unlike, say, masks, respirators, face shields, goggles, gloves, or other PPE, a vaccine is not something that one puts on in the workplace and can take off when one goes home. Unlike, say, bans on smoking or carrying firearms while at work, medical mandates do not merely govern people’s conduct at work and allow them to do what their please in their own time. Undergoing a medical intervention such as a vaccine affects a person while they are at work as well as while they are at home. It affects them while on the clock and while off the clock. Medical decisions about one’s body are the most personal decisions that an individual makes. These decisions are well outside the scope of what an employer should be able to control, regulate, or even know about.

I have heard people use the word “protect” to characterize what the OSHA rule would have done to workers at affected companies. Nothing could be further from the truth. OSHA was founded to protect workers from hazards at the workplace. It was founded to prevent employers from forcing their workers to be around toxic chemicals, to operate dangerous machinery, or do repetitive motions that cause injury, for example. In other words, the purpose of OSHA is to prevent companies from doing harmful things to their workers. However, by enacting the vaccine-or-test policy, OSHA required companies to do harmful things to their workers. To force people to do something they do not want to do is inherently harmful and therefore the exact opposite of protecting them. Under the direction of the Biden administration, a government entity whose purpose is to protect workers did the opposite. 

Thank goodness that the Supreme Court (at least partially) righted this terrible wrong.

bookmark_borderSupreme Court got it right: public health cannot override religious freedom

The Supreme Court’s Thanksgiving decision overturning New York’s Covid restrictions was truly something to be grateful for. A 5-4 majority ruled that the state government violated the First Amendment by imposing capacity limitations on religious services in an effort to combat the virus. 

The 5-justice majority reasoned that New York’s restrictions discriminated against religious institutions because they were regulated more strictly than secular businesses such as retail stores. But Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, part of the minority of 4, argued in their dissent that church services ought to be treated more strictly than stores because they involve people spending large amounts of time together in an enclosed space, often singing and talking. Retail businesses typically do not feature singing, and customers typically get in and out fairly quickly, making the virus less likely to spread there. “Justices of this court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily,” wrote Sotomayor. She argued that the religious restrictions are justified because they help to save lives, and that the ruling overturning them “will only exacerbate the Nation’s suffering.” Professor Jeffrey Sachs made a similar argument in an opinion piece for CNN, criticizing the ruling as “against public-health science” and “scientifically illiterate.” 

These arguments would make sense if saving lives was the sole consideration in determining right and wrong; in other words if a policy’s effectiveness in stopping the virus was the sole consideration in determining whether or not it should be enacted. But this is not the case. The first and foremost consideration in determining whether a policy should be implemented is: does it violate individual rights? If so, then it is not morally permissible, and should not be considered constitutional, regardless of how many lives it would save. This is not “anti-science” or “scientifically illiterate.” It is simply recognizing that science and morality are two separate things. The court was not “second guessing the expert judgment of health officials” about the environments in which the virus spreads most easily. It was simply affirming that these judgments about risk cannot justify taking away fundamental freedoms. Science tells us factual information about the world, including how a virus spreads and what measures would be most effective at containing it. But only philosophy can determine which policies governments ought to enact. Too many people, worshipping at the altar of “science” and “data,” falsely presume that whatever science says is most effective is what should be done. This is to throw morality out the window.

Referencing Pope Francis’s New York Times opinion piece bashing people who stand up for individual rights (I wrote about that here), Sachs claims, “the common good takes precedence over simplistic appeals to ‘personal freedom’ in protests against justified public health measures.” I could not disagree more strongly. First of all, Sachs is presuming the truth of what he is trying to prove. The public health measures against which people have been protesting are not justified. They are unjustified. That is why people are protesting against them. Second, it is offensive and wrong that Sachs chose to derisively put the words “personal freedom” in quotes. The appeals that he refers to are to personal freedom, not “personal freedom.” Additionally, there is nothing “simplistic” about the concept of personal freedom. The non-aggression principle is simple, but that does not make it stupid or incorrect, as Sachs implies. In fact, according to the concept of Occam’s razor, simple ideas are more, not less, likely to be true. Finally, the common good does not take precedence over personal freedom. Individual rights are an absolute and therefore must take precedence over everything else. 

Sachs complains that as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, “public health authorities will feel hamstrung to restrict religious gatherings even when the virus is spreading out of control.” But that is exactly the way it should be. He urges religious, public-health, and political leaders to use “scientific knowledge combined with compassion.” But the policies for which he advocates – taking away individual freedoms in order to combat the spread of the virus – demonstrate a complete lack of compassion. A leader with true compassion would understand that not everyone has the same preferences as he or she does. A leader with true compassion would allow all people to make decisions according to their preferences as opposed to imposing his or her own preferences and risk tolerance on everyone. Therefore, it is the five justices who overturned New York’s restrictions, including the Court’s newest member, Amy Coney Barrett, who demonstrate true compassion. 

bookmark_borderSupreme Court got it right on free birth control

The Supreme Court got it right when it ruled earlier this month that employers have the right to opt out of providing health insurance that covers birth control. Not only is this an issue of religious liberty, but it is also an issue of fairness. For health insurance to provide free birth control is unfair for a simple but often overlooked reason: birth control is only useful for people who have sex, and that category does not include everyone!

The purpose of health insurance is to cover medical services and products that people need in order to be healthy. But birth control is not really medical in nature, not is it a need, because if someone is unable to obtain it for whatever reason, he or she can simply choose not to have sex. Some people might argue that being able to avoid unwanted pregnancies affects a person’s health, and I suppose that it can indirectly, but there are lots of other products that affect people’s health more directly yet are not covered by health insurance, such as food, exercise equipment, and sunscreen, to list just a few examples. Plus, birth control is not necessary to avoid unwanted pregnancies, because simply not having sex is always an option. Of course, many people would be unhappy with this option because sex is an activity that a lot of people enjoy. But, at the risk of sounding insensitive, too bad! There are many activities that I enjoy, such as photography, art, and cheering on my favorite sports teams. I would never expect other people to pay for the equipment that I need for these activities. If I could not afford, say, a camera or pencils or sketchbooks or Bruins jerseys, I would be expected to live without these things and forgo my favorite activities. Why should sex be any different? It is not fair for me, either through my taxes or through the price I pay each month for health insurance, to have to contribute to the costs of other people’s sex-related products when other people are not expected to contribute to the costs of my photography, art, or sports-related products.

Another thing that proponents of free birth control get wrong, in addition to ignoring the unfairness towards people who do not have sex, is by framing the debate as a feminist issue. In my opinion, birth control has nothing to with gender at all. Sex and the products and services associated with it involve both genders equally. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times, for example, opines that the Supreme Court ruling and Justice Clarence Thomas’s explanation “betray every woman in this country.” Speak for yourself. I am a woman in this country, and this ruling does not betray me at all. In fact, it benefits me by making it easier for me to avoid having to pay for products that I do not use! The editorial also states, “For anyone to say that preventive care for women does not, de facto, include birth control is disingenuous and sexist.” I could not disagree more with this statement. Actually, to say that preventive care for women does include birth control is sexist. The editorial cites the statistic that 86% of women have used three or more birth control methods by their 40s… but what about the other 14%? Not all women use birth control, because not all women have sex. There seems to be an attitude held by many people in our society that women are somehow more associated with sex and reproduction than men are. This is completely sexist, and as a woman who has never been interested in sex or reproduction, I find it highly offensive.

So to sum up, requiring health insurance plans to provide free birth control is both unfair and anti-feminist. The more companies that opt out of this unfair, sexist requirement, the better.