Biden’s business vaccine mandate on hold amid volley of lawsuits
States, businesses, and religious institutions are challenging the unusual rule in court
A sweeping Biden administration vaccine mandate set to take effect on Jan. 4 was barely out of the gate last week before a federal appeals court put it on hold.
In a brief order, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans–based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted the directive on Saturday, citing “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” The three Republican-appointed judges ordered expedited filing, with the government’s brief due by Monday and the challengers’ reply by Tuesday.
The rule requiring all companies with 100 or more employees to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy would have affected more than half of the private sector workforce. In issuing the 153-page rule, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sidestepped usual federal rule-making procedures, which require a lengthy public comment and consideration period. The agency instead published the mandate on Friday as an emergency temporary standard.
Under the rule, employers can require regular COVID-19 testing and masks at work in lieu of vaccination. A single violation carries a standard penalty of $13,653, but that increases if there are multiple violations in a workplace.
OSHA’s Thursday morning announcement of the requirement kicked off a flood of challenges. Within minutes, conservative news outlet The Daily Wire filed a petition asking a federal appeals court based in Nashville to review the rule.
On Friday, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of several religious organizations, including Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools in South Dakota, the Christian Employers Alliance, and the Home School Legal Defense Association. Eleven Republican-governed states joined the suit, led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Because of a stipulation in federal law about challenges to emergency temporary standards, all of the lawsuits will be heard first in the appellate circuit courts. Once all the challenges are filed, a random process will consolidate them for review.
The cases include one from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, along with schools and businesses from those states. ADF also filed suit for Kentucky-based Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and Asbury Theological Seminary, highlighting concerns about the mandate’s impact on Christian ministries. And Texas-based First Liberty Institute sued separately in another federal appeals court on behalf of three prominent ministries—Daystar Television Network, the American Family Association, and Answers in Genesis.
“It is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power,” said SBTS President and WORLD Opinions editor Albert Mohler. “This seminary must not be forced to stand in for the government in investigating the private health decisions of our faculty and employees in a matter involving legitimate religious concerns.”
Mohler said the seminary as a matter of policy strongly encourages students and employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine but does not mandate it, advising consultation with a personal physician.
California attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who represents The Daily Wire along with ADF, in a Thursday news conference
questioned the necessity of the rule: “We are no longer in a pandemic, we are in an endemic situation, and there is no emergency that requires the Biden administration to skip over the normal rulemaking process to implement this radical takeover of the American workplace.”
The OSHA mandate comes on the heels of a similar directive requiring vaccines for federal employees and contractors. That rule faces multiple court challenges and could stymie an economic recovery already imperiled by supply chain disruptions, inflation, and a declining workforce.
For religious ministries, the lawsuits are not about whether the COVID-19 vaccines are good, but about religious and personal liberty, said ADF’s Ryan Bangert: “If we cede to the federal government the power to make our private healthcare decisions for us, what’s next?”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.