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Biden administration vaccine mandates

Supreme Court rulings on Biden administration vaccine mandates — explanation

This article about recent US Supreme Court rulings on the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine mandates was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On January 13, 2022, the US Supreme Court, in two different decisions, struck down the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers to create a plan that requires employees to vaccinate or test and mask in the workplace and upheld a rule by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) requiring 15 different types of healthcare providers to vaccine mandates for their employees (subject to required medical and religious accommodations).

This post explains and analyzes both decisions regarding the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine mandates.

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supreme court vaccine mandates

Supreme Court and Religious Freedom from vaccine mandates – why we should worry

This article about the Supreme Court and how it may use religious freedom against vaccine mandates was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law. Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On 29 October 2021, the Supreme Court rejected a request to stay – put on hold – Maine’s vaccine mandates for healthcare workers, which did not include a religious exemption. Many people in the immunization community are excited and happy about this decision.

Without wanting to be a downer, I want to explain why this decision – though certainly better than the alternative, staying the mandate – should cause us concern. Basically, three justices on the Court signed onto an opinion that essentially says that public health writ large is not a compelling state interest (in the middle of a deadly pandemic), that thinks that the right comparison is one religious exemption to one medical exemption (rather than consider aggregate effects) and that if other states are less protective of their citizens’ health, a state can’t limit religion to protect its citizens better.

What was not in the decision is any concern about the effects of COVID-19, a disease that is still killing over 1,000 Americans a day. That is highly problematic. But more concerning is the fact that two other justices were not willing to stay the mandate via emergency proceedings, but saying no more, implying that they are open to considering requiring a religious exemption (though they are certainly not saying they would – and these justices probably could use more information on why requiring a religious exemption from vaccines mandates is problematic). 

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Vaccines and religious exemptions – recent legal decision

This article is by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy and the law. 

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

On October 5, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States denied cert in Phillips v. New York, a group of three cases that considered issues surrounding vaccines and religious exemptions. This post shortly explains the case and what denying cert means (and does not mean).

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Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions – good, bad and ugly

In the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (Hobby Lobby) decision, a majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s requirement that qualifying employer health plans under the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) include coverage for all FDA approve contraceptives cannot be applied to at least certain corporations stating religious objections.

The Court found that the regulations violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA)’s prohibition on burdening exercise of religion. The majority made every effort to make that decision narrow as possible – but it still has concerning implications for the future, and Justice Ginsburg’s ringing dissent raises very important questions.

When the Skeptical Raptor asked me to write about this decision, we intended that I would discuss Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions for vaccines. But this decision is too important to stop there, so while I also address the vaccination aspect, my discussion is about the decision generally.

From my point of view – as a secular individual who believes reproductive freedom is crucial to women’s equality – the decision has some positives, but also much to be concerned about (I hope the analysis will also be useful to those whose views are different from mine, however). It’s not, however, a decision that turns the United States into a theocracy, as some of the more impassioned posts I’ve seen on Facebook suggest. In some ways, actually, just the opposite.

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Victory for teachers who say that creationism is nonsense

Yesterday, the Supreme Court “declined to hear an appeal Tuesday from a former high school student who sued his history teacher, saying he disparaged Christianity in class in violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.”  The case, C. F. v. Capistrano USD, involved a high school student who was insulted that his history teacher, James Corbett, didn’t think much of creationism and religion.  Some of Corbett’s comments (which deserve some sort of hero’s award) are:

“Conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies — that’s interfering with God’s work.”

“When you pray for divine intervention, you’re hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want.”

Referring to creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense”, which lead to the lawsuit.

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Creationism legislation–Alabama, the Constitution update

According to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), in its article Credit-for-creationism scheme unconstitutional?, the new creationist legislation being introduced into the Alabama House is probably unconstitutional.  Incredibly scandalous news.

As discussed yesterday, Alabama is trying to pass legislation that would “authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students.”  In the landmark Supreme Court 1948 ruling, McCollum v. Board of Education, the court struck down a Illinois release time program as unconstitutional because of the public school system’s involement in the administration, organization and support of religious instruction classes.Read More »Creationism legislation–Alabama, the Constitution update