Philosophical, religious, and moral objections based upon the freedom of conscience are well established.
As the mandatory vaccination and masking debate heats back up with the apparent rise of a new variant of Covid, the Delta strain, there are certain religious, philosophical, and legal principles we should keep in mind.
As free citizens of the United States and of Louisiana there are freedoms, including those of conscience, speech, expression, and religion we are guaranteed as well as the individual autonomy and self-determination that are implicit in, and serve as the foundation of, those freedoms. And, while no freedom or right is absolute, religious, philosophical, and moral objections are part of the sovereignty of the individual and are a profoundly important part of what it means to be an American citizen.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects these freedoms, as does Louisiana in several places including state statutes LA. R. S. §17:170(E) as well as LA. R.S. 40:31.16.
Section 17:170 addresses immunization of persons entering schools, kindergartens, colleges, proprietary or vocational schools, and day care centers. Section (E) states “no person seeking to enter any school or facility … shall be required to comply with the provisions of this Section if the student or his parent … submits either a written statement from a physician stating that the procedure is contraindicated for medical reasons, or a written dissent from the student or his parent or guardian is presented.”
Further, LA.R.S. 40:31.16 addresses “exemptions” regarding immunizations, and states in part (D) that “nothing in this Part shall be construed to require immunization or tracking of any child otherwise exempt from immunization requirements for medical or religious reasons.”
Still further, regarding religious objections, the Louisiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, LA. R.S. 13:5231 states in pertinent part that a person’s free exercise of religion cannot be burdened without the State having a compelling interest to do so and the regulation or law the State is using must be the least restrictive means of achieving that compelling government interest. That’s a very weighty burden for a law or regulation to have to meet and it is designed to be so.
From a scientific and medical perspective, vaccines can, do and have worked in American and world history. No doubt about it. That’s why the scientific and medical community are calling for mandatory vaccinations to be imposed to control the spread of the virus.
However, there are many reasons people may choose not to be vaccinated—to say nothing of the fact that none of the vaccines have been fully approved by the FDA. (We have decades of medical data confirming the efficacy and safety of vaccines for smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, and others but virtually none for the Covid vaccine). But let’s assume it’s fully approved shortly. There are grounds based upon which people may legitimately resist a forced vaccination, including a deeply held belief of one kind or another. Nevertheless, many people will dismiss these objections out of hand saying they are “selfish” or “based upon ignorance.”
Well, let’s honestly consider the reluctance of people to be forced to be vaccinated or masked.
The government’s dizzying array of conflicting advice on vaccines (and masks) may fairly raise significant questions among fair-minded citizens who want to make the best decision both for themselves and their families and for the community, state, and nation at large, and who earnestly hope that there is no conflict between these objectives.
Regarding masking, recall that early in the pandemic, as the health experts were doing their best to figure out the best response, Dr. Anthony Fauci said on 60 Minutes “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask,” and then added he’s not “against masks,” but worried about health care providers and sick people “needing them,” but also that masks can lead to “unintended consequences” such as people touching their face when they fiddle with their mask. (Forbes.com). And recall the same Dr. Fauci much later in the pandemic recommended that “two masks are better than one” … “because it just makes common sense.” (Californiaglobe.com). Then, at a recent Senate committee hearing, Dr. Fauci, wearing two masks, was asked by Senator Rand Paul, a medical doctor, if Fauci “could cite any scientific study to support that recommendation.” Fauci provided none. (Heritage.org).
(Note, after CDC included this masking recommendation in its guidance, the study upon which the two-mask recommendation was based was revealed to have included several experiments on mannequins—reportedly no actual human beings were used to arrive at this recommendation. According to reports, “CDC sprayed aerosols at mannequins and slapped a science label on their experiments.” (Californiaglobe.com)).
Then, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated “vaccinated people do not spread the virus”… and that “vaccines were highly effective at preventing illness and the spread of the virus and that vaccinated people can’t carry the virus.” But almost immediately afterwards, CDC overruled Walensky’s statements in order to parallel Dr. Fauci’s opinion. CDC then instructed that masks “should continue to be worn by vaccinated people until further data is available.” (Heritage.org).
Fast forward to only spring of this year when Director Walensky warned of “impending doom” due to rising COVID cases, saying that due to COVID-19 cases, hospitalization and deaths were rising, and making an emotional plea for Americans to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Then, only a few weeks later, CDC announced that face masks are no longer required for those who are vaccinated.
This makes your head spin. What is an open-minded Louisianian and American to make of this sudden turnaround? What changed, science or politics?
We are told we must “follow the science,” and yes, we must. But what is the science? If the facts are clear and the dictates of science the subject of consensus in the scientific community, why the nearly constant confusion of conflicting—and apparently, incorrect—conclusions and guidance? I always thought that, for there to be actual “science” on a critical issue of public health, there needs to be general consistency and consensus among scientists, researchers, and public health policy makers.
I realize scientists, health experts, and policy makers continue to try to figure out the best course but in the meantime it’s wholly understandable and reasonable that free-thinking individuals would have misgivings about the correct course of action regarding vaccines and masking.
Royal Alexander is a Shreveport attorney.