On Sunday of Labor Day weekend, former Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings declared on Instagram her rebellion against mandatory masking. Jennings explained she had recently been inspired to resist restrictions more actively because “our freedoms won’t come back unless we are willing to push back and stand up for them.” She shared that her small act of pushback was to go to the grocery store without a mask.
Predictable condemnation ensued, and on Monday Jennings published a quasi-retraction she titled “Truce.” While Jennings repeated parts of the formulaic apologies typical of stars who incur the wrath of the mob, she didn’t capitulate entirely.
Her final comment voiced a very concrete concern. Jennings said she worries masks are “the potential starting point for so much more,” and that she “truly believe[s] we are on the slippery slope of a mask mandate evolving into a vaccine mandate. That,” Jennings concluded, “scares the [fire emoji] out of me.”
Jennings is absolutely correct. Proponents of masking dismiss complaints about mandatory masks as the selfish whining of people who aren’t willing to put up with a small inconvenience for the greater good, but nothing could be further from the truth. Mandatory masking policies stifle the American spirit and are segueing us right into mandated COVID vaccines.
Masks set the stage, because they are an extraordinary intermediate step that Americans were — incredibly — willing to take. If Americans had refused to put a piece of cloth over their face to leave the house, the likelihood that the public would be willing to accept a mandated shot would be far lower.
But Americans did agree to mask, and the country is that much closer to saying yes to a mandated vaccine. Unlike the mask mandates, which were without precedent, Americans are already familiar with mandatory vaccinations for school and some workplaces, and the government’s authority to mandate vaccines is grounded in longstanding, strong precedent.
Just like lockdowns, mandating a vaccine is mostly a state issue. (The federal government has mechanisms by which it could effectuate a mandate, but such a scenario is unlikely and outside the scope of this article). Protecting citizens’ health falls within the “police power” of the states.
The “police power” is a state’s inherent authority to govern with a view toward its citizens’ health, safety, morals, and general welfare. The 1905 Supreme Court decision Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the seminal case articulating the authority of state governments to mandate a vaccine, and it left no doubt that such an action is within the government’s power.
Today, exemptions come in three primary forms: the very broad exemption of personal belief/philosophical, a middle ground of a religious exemption, and the hardest exemption to claim, a medical condition. There has been a growing push by some doctors and bureaucrats to abolish even these exemptions, and several blue states have removed exemptions just in the past few years.
Many people feel quite confident that so long as a religious exemption is included in a state’s health laws, anyone can claim that exemption and avoid an unwanted vaccine. This is a very dangerous assumption.
Exemptions vary by state, and while some state codes do not include a specific standard, others provide simple definitions that can make it quite hard to claim the exemption. In New York, for example, before the state repealed its religious exemption entirely in 2019, a person claiming the exemption had to show a “genuine and sincere religious belief” that precluded the use of vaccines.
The definition was put to the test in a 2016 New York court case. When her children’s school decided to apply a strict enforcement policy, an orthodox Jewish mother sued, arguing she qualified for the exemption that had been granted several times already. The court ruled against her, and a short review of the court’s fact-intensive examination of her argument shows how difficult claiming the exemption could be. Creating your own Church of No COVID-19 Vaccine will certainly not fly in such a jurisdiction.
Mandating a COVID-19 vaccine — either through a blanket edict or by making normal life impossible without accepting a vaccine — is far from improbable. The country is in the midst of a “crisis,” and when the world is off-kilter, savvy operators harness chaos to accelerate otherwise unlikely objectives.
We have already experienced a series of otherwise unimaginable government policies. Who would have believed that state and local authorities would impose stay-at-home orders on American cities and states? Who would have believed that after the worst of the hysteria had passed, state and local leaders would successfully impose mandatory masking policies? These are radical impositions on our liberty that were both unprecedented and unthinkable not that long ago.
Well-intentioned people might truly believe that a mandated vaccine is the best path back to a healthy society and a strong economy. Those with fewer scruples might see a mandatory vaccine (and perhaps an accompanying app) as a new way to track and control the notoriously independent American public. Whether one has a positive view or a more jaded one, a mandate in some form is not unimaginable.
One bureaucrat got out over his skis last month. Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver told a local news outlet that he planned to mandate all Virginians to take a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available. Gov. Ralph Northam’s office was quick to respond to the immediate outcry by assuring the public that Oliver’s comment was a personal opinion and that Northam’s administration had no plans to mandate the vaccine.
But Northam’s spokeswoman couldn’t help but tip the hand a little more, saying: “When a vaccine becomes available, we’re confident that Virginians will seek it out. That’s why we don’t have plans for a mandate.” What will happen when not enough Virginians flock to take the new vaccine? Large percentages of Americans on both sides of the political aisle are already skeptical of such a vaccine and say they would not take it voluntarily.
Mandatory masking policies have primed the public for a mandated vaccine. Proponents of the mandatory masking policy had to create a narrative to make masks a form of virtue-signaling, but that narrative is already in place on the vaccine mandates.
Resistance to vaccines for school children is already framed as a dangerous stance, and many parents are deeply reproachful of other parents unwilling to fully vaccinate their children. The idea that you are not only a bad parent, but a selfish and even dangerous person for refusing vaccinations for your child, is a common theme.
Like the mask mandates, which are fueled by the theory that your participation is critical to your neighbor’s safety, and community-enforced by those who are very emotional about universal compliance, mandatory vaccines will use the same common-good justification and rely on our new societal attitude that complete compliance can and should be required.
A vaccine mandate or de facto mandate would have been all but impossible a year ago, but our current hysteria has radically shifted the collective mindset. America is off-balance. For a political strategist viewing this landscape, America’s ability to successfully resist a vaccine mandate is now a very open question. Submission to masks was our tell. Expect blue states to note that and act accordingly.
It is easier to block a bad policy than to roll it back once implemented. If you don’t want a mandate, get out ahead of this looming abuse and make clear that any type of forced COVID-19 vaccine is a bridge too far.
COVID-19 has already been a rough ride, but it will eventually pass. In the meantime, Americans have to make sure that the people in government who want to use the crisis to refashion America and erode our liberties are defeated.