America has long been a stronghold of freedom. The first few amendments to the Constitution guarantee freedom of speech and religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to due process, and the right not to incriminate ourselves.
Unwritten among our fundamental rights — but still alive and thriving — is the freedom to do stupid things.
For proof, look no further than the ongoing debate over COVID-19 vaccinations.
State governments unquestionably have the power to mandate vaccines.
This authority dates to a 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts. With smallpox raging in 1902, the city of Cambridge passed a law mandating that every resident over age 21 get vaccinated or face a $5 fine.
Pastor Henning Jacobson, one of our nation’s original anti-vaxxers, refused, saying he’d suffered serious medical maladies from past vaccines. Jacobson lost at the highest court in the land by a 7-2 vote.
Writing for the majority, Justice Marshall Harlan opined: “Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”
Thus, state government has all the authority it needs to mandate vaccines. Our elected leaders simply won’t do so, especially in Arizona.
Our Legislature passed multiple bills this past session forbidding vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and mask mandates, and prohibiting schools from forcing teachers and students to get a vaccine to participate in in-person classes.
Regardless, some Valley and Tucson school districts have passed mask mandates anyway, a move that undoubtedly will end up litigated to death.
Where do I stand? Well, given the evidence that vaccines work — like the fact that 165 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and haven’t dropped dead or been hospitalized en masse — I believe it’s foolish not to get one, absent a religious objection or some serious medical condition.
At the same time, I support your right to do things I believe are foolish. That’s the price of freedom: Because we live in a country where the government doesn’t nanny us on every little thing, or big things like a pandemic that to date has killed 612,000 people, sometimes our friends and neighbors will do things we deeply wish they would not.
Like refusing to get a shot that can diminish your risk of getting COVID-19, getting extremely ill if you do, or dying from the virus.
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, explained at a July press briefing. “Our biggest concern is we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated.”
Here in Arizona, where about half the state has been fully vaccinated, 95% of nearly 17,000 reported COVID-19 cases in May were among people who were not fully vaccinated. In June, it was 92% of 12,911 reported cases.
The capper? Since the start of 2021, approximately 99% of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona were people not fully vaccinated.
Maybe you want to prove you’re tough. Maybe you’re afraid, or you don’t believe the Arizona Department of Health Services statistics cited in the above paragraph. You don’t need to explain your reasoning, not to anyone.
That’s the beauty of America. To a greater extent than any society on this great green Earth, you can say what you want, believe what you want, and do with your body what you want.
In America, we don’t rely on our government to legislate foolishness out of existence. Besides, it seems COVID-19 and its deadly variants have that well in hand.