Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Nov. 5 her intention to join Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming as a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate, which requires all businesses with over 100 employees to compel all staff to get tested weekly and wear masks, or get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The mandate was scheduled to begin Jan. 4 and carry a penalty of $14,000 for each violation. However, the 10 states brought a legal challenge to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an injunction against the mandate, citing its “staggeringly overbroad” nature and threat to the “liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Nov. 4 he supported legal action against the mandate, concerned it might cause apprehension among the unemployed about reentering the workforce. The only problem with this position is the lack of logic. If vaccine mandates were the cause of mass unemployment, then the absence of a mandate should cause mass employment. However, the U.S. has been facing widespread unemployment since prior to any whisper of a mandate.
It is possible low vaccine numbers are in part a result of unfounded beliefs, touted by right-wing media, that masks, social distancing and COVID-19 vaccines are some liberal cabal’s experiment to diminish freedom.
Hutchinson said business owners should have the right to decide for themselves and their employees what mandate, or lack thereof, is appropriate. It should not be necessary to explain why the owner of a mechanic or tattoo shop should not decide what is medically necessary to ensure personal and public safety.
The question at hand is how far business liberty should extend. If COVID-19 were three times more deadly, I think Rutledge and Hutchinson would still support business and individual liberty over federal mandates to protect our communities, and that is the problem.
It is not just about COVID-19. When state officials, especially the governor and attorney general, make broad claims of liberty violations and vexatious federal mandates, what happens when the next virus is more deadly and contagious? Once officials pump out theories of “liberty trumps all,” it becomes difficult to quash those ideologies, which can threaten public safety.
Case in point: how difficult it was to convince people science supported the concept that masks reduce the spread of COVID-19. The simple inconvenience of wearing a mask was too objectionable for some because state and federal officials repeatedly pushed the notion that individual freedom trumps any obligation to uphold the public good.
These lawsuits and doomsaying from Rutledge and Hutchinson, flying in the face of reason, are the cause of hesitance to re-enter the workforce, not federal immunization mandates. If someone told parents their children must get vaccinated against measles to enroll in public school, no one but the anti-vaxxers would bat an eye, and Biden’s mandate is based on the same principle.
No business, nor our economy as a whole, should suffer a minute longer because some pundits and officials want to capitalize on fears of some conjured government takeover. It is time to end the COVID-19 conspiracy theories and return to normalcy. Vaccines are nothing new, and Biden should defend his mandate in an effort to restore our workforce and improve the health of our communities.
Hutchinson and Rutledge should not challenge the federal mandate. The responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the general welfare, and where the president offers a reasonable solution, our attorney general should not become an obstacle. Rutledge and several other attorneys general have made their intentions clear, and increased immunization rates are not their objective — political posturing is.