Updated: Aug 9, 2021
There are some things in life that we hold dear for one reason or another. One of those things is the liberty to move about freely and engage with society. I'd venture there are few people who are happy to give up their freedom of movement whether that means giving up the ability to go to the beach, head to Starbucks for their morning joe or simply take a walk around the block to enjoy some fresh air. This also happens to be a constitutionally protected right in the U.S. Humans are social creatures, we thrive when we are able to socialize and work with others. Conversely, we tend to suffer rather severely when we are separated from society. We can see an extreme example of this when inmates or prisoners of war are placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time. An example of this a little closer to home is the dramatic increase in mental health related emergency visits and suicide attempts among teens during the pandemic according to CDC data.
Societal isolation is nothing new in the U.S. There was a time when businesses and even the government itself engaged in discrimination based on certain characteristics that are now protected by law such as age, race, gender, religion and disability. Black Americans were largely excluded from many of the things that bring the community together such as concerts, restaurants, schools and many others. We recognized that these certain characteristics used for exclusion made people no less worthy of participating in all that society has to offer and so we implemented laws to protect people with these characteristics. It makes a lot of sense. Even where one of these groups may be a liability to a business in one way or another, statistically, excluding an entire group of people based on these certain characteristics is found to violate one of several federal statutes protecting the rights of the protected groups. One legal basis for discrimination, however, is medical history.
The main reason businesses should not be able to discriminate based on medical history is simple and seems to be common sense. Medical treatment decisions should be made between a doctor and a patient with the patient in ultimate control of those decisions. The unfortunate reality for those business owners who wish to control the medical treatment of others is that they, typically, are not medical experts. Exerting pressure on individuals by banishing them from society should they choose not to undergo the medical treatments these business owners wish they would is, in effect, taking control from the doctors and patients to make medical decisions. The harmful effects of social isolation are hardly in dispute. So, inflicting harm on someone in order to influence their medical treatment decisions can hardly be considered virtuous in any way.
Well, what about the harm they might inflict on others if they infect them with Covid?
Nobody is asking vaccinated people to forego basic freedoms. They are free to continue living their lives as normal. The unvaccinated population is not asking them to stay away if they have had the vaccine and they're not asking for them to give up the vaccine. In other words, they aren't asking them to put themselves at risk in any way whatsoever. There's a massive difference in asking for a person to do something on another's behalf and asking not to be prevented from doing something on one's own behalf. They're actually polar opposites. One demands liberty and the other demands autocracy, "Do as I say or you'll be banished from society!". The distinction is very clear.
For those who ask "what about the harm they might inflict on others?", the answer is simple. Liberty trumps safety. Of course, that's not always true. There is a balancing that must be done between the risk of engaging in an activity and the harm it might cause to others. The data for people under 40 is very clear, the risk of serious complications from Covid infection is low. Those who have chosen the vaccine are free to go into any business they please or they are free to stay away from businesses they fear are environments where they may be harmed. The real solution here, if you feel the need to be tyrannical, is to keep high-risk populations out of your business. Of course, I don't think that is the right answer because even high-risk populations should be free to conduct a risk analysis on their own behalf.
In any case, forcing people to take the drugs you want them to by threat of exile is immoral. It doesn't make you virtuous and you aren't saving the day. The truth is, the same people you're keeping out are everywhere. We are out here. We are at the gas station, the post office and the school down the road. We just touched that same stainless steel door handle you did. Three vaccinated and three unvaccinated stoners shared that joint and then went down the road to Taco Bell to grab a $5 Chalupa Box. I've got news: that isn't going to change. You will be exposed to the people not willing to take the risk of an enlarged heart, blood clots or death as well as the unknowns of a new and emergency-only approved vaccine when our risk of serious symptoms from Covid are extremely low.
This is why the government must protect people's rights to make their own health decisions. There are those so politically motivated to push a narrative that they will attempt to exile others who don't make the same medical decisions they do notwithstanding the fact that the virus poses a low risk to the group choosing not to accept the vaccine. This isn't much different than in our history when people fabricated reasons as to why certain groups of people should be excluded from concerts, dance halls, schools, restaurants, grocery stores and hospitals. Remember when people claimed that African-Americans were "dirty" or "carried diseases" or were "dangerous" or, in the case of Joe Biden, that putting them on the same bus as white children would create a "racial jungle"? These were, at one time, "truths" much like the "truths" about masking and risk to young, healthy people from a Covid infection. Turns out, instead, those are the kinds of lies that are perpetuated to exclude groups of people from society based on group identity.
The real question here is "what makes the individual less important than the masses?". How do you justify risking a young person's life or health for the sake of the elderly population's life and health? There isn't an ethic that can justify such action because for any justification on an ethical basis there is an equally strong argument against mandatory or pressure campaigns for vaccination. When an ethical argument centers around the freedom of people to affect their own health and when the argument has strong points on both sides, heavy deference should be given to the argument in favor of the individual to choose their own health risks.
I believe people don't realize what they are suggesting when they justify mandatory or pressure campaigns on the basis of the "good of the masses". If this is the argument, an equally good argument could be made for eliminating the bottom 2/3rds (i.e. the most sick, poor, down-trodden) of the world population in order to make the lives of the top 1/3rd better by allocating the now-available resources to them. Hardly anyone would agree this is a great idea. That's because we inherently recognize the truth; individuals have value that overrides the value of the whole. If we didn't, the idea of elimination of certain populations and resource re-allocation would be entirely acceptable.
Actually, we need a logical argument in favor of vaccination to justify it. As of now, the stats for young people do not justify them taking the vaccine from a strictly logical viewpoint. That isn't to say that if those young people wish to risk their own health by accepting vaccination they shouldn't be free to, of course they should. By the same token, those who exercise logic in decision making should be free to analyze the risks of each decision and make the choice for themselves free of government intervention, threat or discrimination.
The new, unprotected group are the unvaccinated and lies and misinformation are being proffered to ensure the same outcome as other, now-protected groups. The government should act to ensure that the rights and liberties of all Americans are protected even if that means adding medical history to the list and protecting people from discrimination on the basis of that history. Nobody should be allowed to discriminate against a person because they prefer a logical basis for a decision about their health. When requiring the vaccine for all age groups is completely logical then we can have a discussion about government intervention or discrimination in order to promote a compelling interest. Until then, coffee-shop-owner-Bob shouldn't be able to exile US citizens and restrict their freedom of movement based on a patron's medical status.
A.G. Miller is a father, husband and community member who resides in Tulsa, OK. He is an Army combat veteran, former police officer, and business owner who graduated summa cum laude with B.S. in business management and currently attends University of Tulsa College of Law where he will graduate with a J.D. in 2022.
"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." -Thomas Jefferson