The American people must never lose sight of what makes our country great as we march toward victory in our ongoing efforts to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. We must defeat this enemy while being true to our highest values, upholding the religious liberty and civil rights of our fellow citizens by rejecting vaccine mandates.
Oppressive COVID vaccine mandates are sweeping across this country, causing misery. Millions of Americans are threatened with losing their jobs. Some are from Joe Biden’s executive orders requiring all federal employees and contractors to get the vaccine, others from private-sector employers following Biden’s lead in their own companies, and millions more from the forthcoming Biden administration labor regulation that would apply to 80 million people.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect in this cavalcade of tragedies is that many of the people losing their jobs are the heroes of 2020. They’re frontline workers: police officers, firefighters, nurses, and doctors.
They’re the noble souls who put their lives on the line when we didn’t know how bad COVID might be. As terrible as this pandemic has been, there were early days when experts feared that it might be far deadlier and more destructive. These are the warriors who ran toward the sound of the gunfire, who charged into the breach to protect those in need.
Now these courageous heroes are getting fired for disagreeing with the medical judgments of politicians and business executives.
Life is about managing risk. The goal can never be pursuing a zero-risk route, because such a route often does not exist. That’s certainly the case with COVID-19. COVID will always pose some risk, and we need to wisely weigh the risk-benefit aspect of all possible responses to those posed by COVID itself.
Let me clearly and emphatically say what this is not about: This is not about whether COVID vaccines are effective, or good policy, or prudent risk management. Data suggest that the vaccine does a lot of good for many people, and that for certain categories of people, risks from COVID far outweigh the risks of the vaccine.
But while many people of devout faith are okay with the vaccine, many other people religiously object to the vaccine. Even if they think COVID could kill them, they are willing to lose their life before they lose their faith. They commit themselves into God’s hands by following their conscience, even if they think the vaccine is effective and would safeguard their health.
Whether Almighty God regards taking the vaccine as being complicit in abortion is not the issue. In America, you have the constitutional right to be theologically wrong. You have that civil right to religious liberty, and government can never take it away from you — either directly or by recruiting your private-company employer to do it.
So this is instead about the principle that government must never be able to claim that trampling civil rights is justified for the “greater good.”
The “greater good” has been cited by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes for more than a century as a warrant for violating people’s human rights and dignity. Hitler’s Nazism, the Soviets’ all-encompassing communism, China’s less-comprehensive but still brutally oppressive communism — these and countless other abuses repeat the refrain that whatever it claims is the good of the many justifies sacrificing the few.
America is different. As our nation’s ambassador for human rights decades ago, I trumpeted to the world that the United States of America champions the rights of the few, and even the individual. In this country, we recognize that every human being is made in the image of God, endowed by him as their Creator with inalienable rights, and that the government exists by the consent of the governed to secure those rights.
That truth goes to the heart of American Exceptionalism. It makes us the Shining City upon the Hill, as our Pilgrim forefathers proclaimed when they moved to this continent four centuries ago, and as President Ronald Reagan famously reasserted during his time in office.
America is turning the corner on COVID. More people every week get through the disease, resulting in robust antibody protection. These numbers are supplemented by millions more who willingly get the vaccine without moral qualms, and while vaccine immunity is not nearly as effective of natural immunity, it significantly adds to the growing public safety that is beating this pandemic from China.
Experts say that by January the worst will be behind us. We must not allow Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and other modern authoritarians to falsely claim that their trampling of civil rights is what saved us. We must get there without these mandates so that we reaffirm that government must never crush someone because of their religious faith for the greater good.
Ken Blackwell is on the policy board of the American Constitutional Rights Union, Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council, and served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.