by Bob Barr
In the name of COVID, American citizens in 2021 are being subjected to a form of perverse religious persecution by elected officials and unelected regulatory bureaucrats. This is ironic, considering that the United States was founded on the principle that government is not empowered to dictate or negate, directly or indirectly, an individual’s religious beliefs.
Now, centuries after our nation’s founding, government leaders and bureaucrats at the state and federal levels are punishing those who assert a religious objection to receiving a COVID vaccination.
This intolerance is but the latest in a seemingly endless series of measures by government to use the COVID pandemic as a hammer to control virtually every segment of our society, from education to healthcare, and from the military to the entire commercial sector.
A country that produced such advocates of religious freedom and tolerance as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin now chafes under the intolerance and exercise of arbitrary power by the likes of President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who recently declared categorically that “there are not religious exemptions” for people being vaccinated against COVID.
In September, Biden confirmed by executive order what many citizens had feared for months he would do. He decreed that COVID vaccinations would be required for all federal employees, including members of the armed forces, but also for all individuals working for private companies with 100 or more employees. OSHA – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — will be Uncle Sam’s primary vaccine enforcer. (OSHA is a regulatory nanny agency signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1971.)
OSHA was ready to go to work even before Biden’s Sept. 9 order, having declared last summer that COVID-19 is a “workplace hazard,” thereby making it an enforceable mandate on American businesses.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are working feverishly to pass legislation that would greatly increase the level of fines OSHA could levy on businesses failing to meet Biden’s private sector vaccine mandate.
A number of companies already are jumping into Biden’s mandate line and forcing employees to get vaccinated or be terminated.
Even though both the U.S. military and private companies offer “religious exemptions,” in practice these are a sham.
United Airlines, among the first major air carriers to salute Biden’s vaccine order, allowed the few of its employees who sought a religious exemption to do so, but then placed them on indefinite leave without pay.
Another large employer, Washington state, empowers its bureaucrats to be the ultimate arbiters of whether an employee’s claim of religious objection to being vaccinated will be allowed. Washington State University’s head football coach, Nick Rolovich, for example, was fired from his multi-million dollar job by the university’s athletic director, who summarily denied the coach’s requested religious exemption.
Similar fates have befallen employees at other businesses. One longtime employee at Trader Joe’s was grudgingly granted a religious exemption, but then fired anyway on a pretext.
Members of our armed forces wanting to assert a religious reason for noncompliance are being forced to take legal action to do so. The Navy, however, appears uninterested in allowing any meaningful opportunity for its members to assert such an exemption. Reportedly Navy SEALs, among the most elite of our military units, are being told that a religious exemption may be sought, but even if granted, requesting individuals will be terminated from the service.
Many of these cases already are being challenged in the courts, a costly and time-consuming process for most employees, and especially for members of the military. While some judges are granting temporary reprieves for employees asserting their right to religious exemptions, others are not. The latter includes Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who last week refused to grant a stay to Maine healthcare workers claiming their religious beliefs precluded them from meeting their state government’s mandate.
Even if the full U.S. Supreme Court decides to step in and protect many thousands if not millions of American citizens from being arbitrarily and summarily punished for their religious beliefs, the fact that so many individuals already are being placed in such predicament illustrates the damage already done to the foundation of religious freedom and tolerance that once undergirded our constitutional Republic.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.