A breathtaking expansion of federal power
Christiana Holcomb | The president’s ‘thin patience’ doesn’t justify an illegitimate vaccine mandate
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On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden addressed the country with an update in the fight against COVID-19. His message was solemn, direct, and by some estimations, arrogant. Addressing the millions of Americans who have not chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, he warned, “our patience is wearing thin.”
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our national equilibrium and tested our patience. Many Americans desire a return to normalcy. And many Christians view the COVID-19 vaccine as a hopeful and helpful gift of God’s common grace through human research and ingenuity. Some even struggle with frustration toward their neighbors who have not chosen to get vaccinated, while the unvaccinated are frustrated by a seeming lack of patience or respect for their personal medical decisions.
But the president’s “thin patience” speech did something more profound than venting his irritation and more problematic than lecturing millions of Americans about their private health care decisions: It authorized a breathtaking encroachment of federal power into the employment decisions of private religious institutions and their workforce.
Back in July, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that mandating vaccines is “not the role of the federal government.” But two short months later, in the president’s “thin patience” speech, he directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create an emergency rule mandating vaccination. OSHA bureaucrats complied. They rolled out an emergency rule requiring employers with 100 employees or more to force their workers into getting the jab, face a costly regimen of weekly testing, or risk losing their jobs.
Fifty years ago, Congress authorized OSHA to address occupational hazards by limiting exposure to toxic chemicals, providing safety harnesses, and similar actions. But under the president’s direction, the government agency is now abusing its role—expanding its jurisdiction to meddle in the private decisions of religious employers.
Americans can respectfully disagree over the COVID-19 vaccine. Christians can and should have charitable conversations over the issues at play. Some will feel convicted to get the vaccine as a way to love their neighbors. Others will decline the vaccine out of ethical concerns over the methods used to create it. Some will prayerfully and carefully calculate that the risks of the vaccine’s side-effects outweigh the benefits.
But presidential impatience does not permit the Biden administration to coerce the millions of Americans who—for religious, ethical, scientific, or other personal reasons—have declined a medical procedure. Presidential impatience does not allow the administration to co-opt seminaries, private Christian schools, or other religious employers to become an enforcement mechanism for the federal government. Presidential impatience does not negate the rule of law. It doesn’t give unelected bureaucrats the power to circumvent the legislative process. Presidential impatience does not allow the administration to require some Americans to violate their consciences in order to make a living.
That’s why thousands of Americans are standing up and respectfully fighting back against the Biden administration’s illegal power grab. Alliance Defending Freedom has partnered with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, Christian grade schools in Florida, a network of Catholic schools in South Dakota, Christian Employers Alliance, and a handful of other nonprofits to challenge the Biden mandate.
In many instances, the people that ADF represents have happily gotten vaccinated and view the vaccine as a blessing. But the employers we represent refuse to violate the dignity of their employees by demanding that their workers give up their God-given rights of conscience or face the consequences—the costly and regular interruption of their daily work of ministry, mentoring, and teaching.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has already halted enforcement of the mandate, issuing an injunction that now has nationwide impact after 34 separate challenges to the employer mandate were consolidated and transferred to the 6th Circuit. On Dec. 7, ADF attorneys filed papers opposing the federal government’s attempt to dissolve the injunction that protects nearly 80 million individuals from the irreversible and immoral effects of the OSHA mandate.
The Christian schools and seminaries that ADF represents in these lawsuits teach that Christ is King. They encourage their students to bow to His rule over their consciences and daily lives. But these employers also understand their Christian call to respect the consciences of their employees. President Biden is welcome to invite, educate, and motivate the American public to change their minds about the COVID-19 vaccine. But no amount of impatience permits him to violate the U.S. Constitution nor the laws of our land and play “king.” Allowing him to do so will certainly cause our freedoms to “wear thin.”
We all hope to see this COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror—and soon. But sacrificing the personal convictions of everyday Americans and compromising the integrity of religious organizations will leave us all much worse off. The Biden administration can and must do better, and unconstitutional actions must be challenged.
Editor’s note: Albert Mohler, editor of WORLD Opinions, is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a lead litigant in the suit described above.
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