Vaccine Passports Should Be Neither Mandatory Nor Forbidden

Pro-freedom politicians want to restrict private enterprise, while civil liberties proponents want to violate your bodily autonomy.


The loudest, most extreme voices in the room tend to get the most attention, which is why the debate over vaccines and vaccine mandates seems to be between a group of people—including legislators and governors who claim to support limited government— who insist that not even private businesses should be allowed to require proof of vaccination for service or employment, versus another group of people—including leaders from the nation's preeminent civil liberties organization—who say the government should be able to mandate vaccines for everyone.

Though it receives far less attention, there is another position on this spectrum: Individuals and private parties should be permitted to adopt whatever rules they please, but the government should refrain from mandating that people inject something into their bodies.

Were we living in a different timeline, Republican politicians would likely have been first in line to agree with the former point. Freedom of association was, at one point, a core tenet of conservative ideology. Yet it has been Florida and Texas—the states culturally hailed as havens for limited government—that have made it illegal for private actors to make personal decisions on whether or not to do business with unvaccinated individuals.

A Florida Department of Health rule will punish businesses with $5,000 fines should they ask to see proof of vaccination from customers, who, I should note, are still free to go elsewhere. In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law prohibiting anyone from requesting proof of vaccination when conducting free enterprise. One wonders how free it can be if the enterprising individuals are not permitted to control the environment in which they do business.

"It cannot be rationally justified," Timothy Sandefur, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, told me in June. "It's simply a matter of people saying that the government shouldn't force people to do things they don't like and should force people to do things they do like. It's totally inconsistent, and a violation of basic property rights and constitutional law."

An early signal from the federal court system would agree with Sandefur's interpretation. A judge last month issued a preliminary injunction against the Florida law, citing the First Amendment. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is appealing the decision while he charges onward with the legislation's implementation.

In previous years, the right has been on the direct opposite side of that fight, like when conservatives correctly argued against forcing a baker to whip up a cake for a gay wedding ceremony to which he morally objected. Now they want you to bake that cake.

They are not the only faction to make an about-face in the COVID-19 era. "In fact, far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties," write David Cole and Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in The New York Times. "They protect the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated and communities of color hit hard by the disease."

It's true that vaccines offer a great deal of protection from infection, hospitalizations, and deaths. The breakthrough case rate post-vaccination sits below 1 percent, while fatal encounters hover around 0 percent. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than get a fatal case of COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine.

But the efficacy of the drug does not explain why a police-enforced mandate to put a vaccine into everyone's bodies enhances civil liberties. That's particularly relevant when considering the refusal to get vaccinated almost always hurts the refuser, save a few tragic cases.

But haven't we always required vaccinations? "Schools, health care facilities, the U.S. military and many other institutions have long required vaccination for contagious diseases like mumps and measles that pose far less risk than the coronavirus does today," add Cole and Mach. That's true: Mandating vaccines for schoolchildren strikes me as sensible, as they don't have agency, and are forced by law to attend public school with other children who don't have agency. And employers—including the government—also have the right to mandate vaccinations and to set the terms their employees must abide by. If employees don't like them, they can find work elsewhere.

Yet government as the employer is different than government as the monopoly on power. After all, Cole and Mach are not talking about just government employees, they are talking about everyone, everywhere. The pair from the ACLU concludes that "restaurants and bars, workplaces and businesses open to the public" should be subject to vaccine mandates. This takes choice away from private firms and private individuals.

And so we have two extreme arguments crowding out more amicable solutions by pretending as if free association has never existed. Some restaurants require jackets and ties, most require shirts and shoes. Now, many will require vaccinations. Some Republicans seem to have lost sight of that principle. The ACLU, meanwhile, now believes that government should have intimate control over the bodies of the governed, which is not a position it's ever held and one that is deeply inconsistent with its work on other issues, such as the drug war and reproductive rights.

Just remember that there is a third position, even if the loudest voices in the room aren't raising it.

NEXT: Unfortunately, Ivermectin Is Not a Miracle Cure for COVID-19

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  1. Vaccine passports, which run afoul of antidiscrimination laws and the ADA wholesale, should not be barred…why?

    1. In the ideal libertarian world, anti-discrimination laws wouldn’t exist and businesses would be free to discriminate against anyone as they see fit, sort of like a section 230 but for business that aren’t multi-billion dollar tech corporations and not arbitrarily extended to absolve any and all responsibilities under contract law.

      The problem is we don’t live in that libertarian world. The world we do live in is one in which this totally Private Company They Can Do What They Want vaccine passport system is bankrolled, coordinated, and “strongly encouraged” by the federal government. But that harshes the Florida Man Bad narrative, so that never gets mentioned at Reason.

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  3. …when conservatives correctly argued against forcing a baker to whip up a cake for a gay wedding ceremony to which he morally objected.

    The point is valid, although I think that the bakers in question weren’t refusing to outright serve gay patrons, only to produce that specific product. But I would be all for the country doing away with public accommodation laws.

    1. To keep repeating the actual point; the baker was objecting to DECORATING the cake with specific messages that were in opposition to his religion. You know, forced speech. He was willing to sell a cake, and had done so in the past to the same customers.

  4. What is worse?

    A law mandating that you beat your children; or,

    A law mandating that you cannot beat your children?

    Reason seems to be struggling mightily with this distinction.

  5. Medical information is personal. End of story.

    1. Meh. So is your financial information. And yet people will plonk it down in order to get a loan all the time.

      The question isn’t whether or not it is personal information. The question is whether or not you are being coerced to divulge that information.

      All that said, I find the objection to mandate-bans to be pretty weak tea. I find the creepy “Better institute mandates or we’ll lock down harder” statements from the Federal Government to be far more troublesome.

      1. We are in a weird position of arguing between being overtly regulated or covertly regulated. Ultimately a lose-lose. The result of being stuck in a quasi-fascist form of governance.

        Going back to my comment earlier today on Veronique De Rugy’s article. Do I really want to give the government the power to regulate free association if that power can be then wielded by the most evil person on earth? Definitely not. The trouble, in this situation, is that the government may already have that power covertly. “Do as we say or we will revoke your business license”. Among many other similar threats that can be used to coerce behavior.

        Or maybe the precedent of overtly regulating free association has been set with the current list of existing anti-discrimination laws and this does not give the government any additional powers that it didn’t already have. Ideally, all anti-discrimination laws would be wiped off the books along with any of the levers that the government has at its disposal to coerce compliance. If only…..

      2. But I don’t have to plonk it down to shop at Walmart.

        1. Yet, DesigNate. Yet.

          Social credit scores are coming.

      3. “Meh. So is your financial information. And yet people will plonk it down in order to get a loan all the time.”

        That strawman is HEAVY! Did you get Queen Asshole and turd both to help you?
        Fuck off, slaver.

    2. Not really. Employers and government licensing agencies can and do ask you for medical information. I have even had to submit a letter from my doctor at one place. Employers can also require verification that you are fit to return to work after an absence for medical reasons.

      Hospitals and schools require proof of vaccination. There is nothing to prevent any employer from doing the same.

      They can’t directly access your medical records but you own your medical information and they can ask you for it.

  6. If you got the vaccine you got a paper card where someone wrote your name (maybe) and put a sticker of which shot you received. Not exactly tough to find or replicate.

    But meh let’s have government and “private” companies do anything they want. Because you can always move and get another job right?

    1. Pelosi’s nation lock

    2. Exactly. I had to write my own name. Just a blank card and a sticker.

  7. Florida businesses are still free to ask for vaccination status. They just have to pay the $5000.

    1. Fair enough.

  8. I see Reason is still pretending that business just spontaneously decided to start demanding vaccine passports with government having nothing to do with it.

    1. Yes banning the mother of the soldier killed was totally in Facebook’s interest and not Joe Biden’s.

      1. She was angry, it is part of the grief process. What a bunch of assholes to not let her express herself during the worst moment of her life.

      2. She embarrasses the antiwar at all costs agenda, so she can be ignored..

    2. Yeah. No business would want to tell its customers that all of its employees are vaccinated. Well, unless government said so. Then they might.

    3. Oh yeah NO business is ever gonna want to mandate vaccines? Not even hospitals or nursing homes? Yeah, right.

  9. I’m all for places that demand a vax passport. I actively know who to avoid. It would be sort of like hanging a “NO BLACKS” sign on your window — now I know enough not to give you money. Thanks!

  10. It baffles me that Binion and others have written nearly a dozen articles complaining about Mandate-Bans in Florida and Texas and not one of them has dealt with the fact that their “Free Association” absolutism would necessarily require us to abolish the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Opportunities Act, and many others.

    Failing to deal with that most obvious argument is sloppy opinion writing. If you cannot either give a full throated defense of free association- which includes the freedom to discriminate based on race- then I am left to conclude that your stand for free association isn’t principled at all. *shrug*.

    1. Reason hasn’t changed, we have!!!

      But seriously, those are good points that it would be awesome for the ostensibly libertarian writers here to explore.

    2. They like to talk about the symptoms and not the disease.

    3. “Free Association” absolutism would necessarily require us to abolish the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Opportunities Act, and many others.

      You hush your mouf!

    4. Absolutism would yes. But not having a vaccine sure makes a difference while being black sure doesn’t. So no, all those four are not the sames.

  11. Yeah the “vaccines” are experimental medical treatments with emergency authorization. Contrary to media propaganda none of the currently available vaccines has been approved by the FDA. They also do not prevent infection nor transmission of the Wuhan virus or any other disease. They may be a valuable treatment for the virus in individuals who do not have natural immunity. The adverse reactions reported to VAERS are unprecedented. It’s possible that these medications are useful and harmless. It’s possible that they will ultimately be not only ineffective but dangerous to a nation of guinea pigs. If private businesses were demanding that their employees and customers had to take sedatives to enter the premises would it be libertarian or would it violate the NAP? What if they had show proof of sterilization? What if they had to show DNA proof of their racial heritage? Would it be appropriate for government to ban these practices for the purpose of defending the liberty of individuals? Why does more liberty make Reason so nervous?

    1. Could private businesses require pregnant employees to have an abortion?

        1. In libertarian theory but you would have a hard time getting that one past the EOC.

    2. Did they try to intentionally infect any vaxxed person?

      1. They are planning to in the UK both vaxxed and unvaxxed to study details of the immune response. I think it is highly unethical.

    3. “ Yeah the “vaccines” are experimental medical treatments with emergency authorization”

      Not any more. Pfizer is fully approved. Moderna submitted their application so they should be there in a few months.

      1. No the Pfizer vaccine that exists today, the one that you can actually get is still under EUA. The vaporware vaxx has been approved but will not be out for about a year.

  12. Of course, no one goes into the real issue, requiring a vaccine passport from those who have survived the disease.
    There are no studies on the effect of the vaccine(s) long term on these people, and insistence by non-medical people that they receive one of the untested and unapproved vaccines is not wise.
    There are probably money hungry lawyers out there now writing up briefs with the names left out alleging harm from from the mandates, especially employer mandates. You know, relative positions of power and hostile work environments and all that jazz.

    1. I suppose they could just rely on your honesty and ask. It would be going pretty far to require an antibody test.

  13. Also, cake baking, pizza selling, flower arranging and wedding photography should be neither mandatory nor forbidden.

  14. If government as monopoly on power is different than government as employer, than government as educator is also different and more free to act. I don’t think Binion has thought through the implications of that argument.

  15. “Schools, health care facilities, the U.S. military and many other institutions have long required vaccination for contagious diseases like mumps and measles that pose far less risk than the coronavirus does today,

    They pose far more risk.

    And vaccine mandates should stay in schools, health care employment, and the U.S. military.

    If restaurants and bars never required vaccinations for polio, measles, or mumps, they are ethically estopped from requiring vaccinations for COVID-19.

    1. Those diseases hardly exist in the US because of the childhood vaccinations so no point in it. Actually polio is eradicated in the US but it is still around in the world.

  16. Since libertarians support free choice and free markets, pragmatic libertarians should also support vaccine mandates by private companies on their employees and customers (who have the right to quit their job or stop doing business with the company).

    Three weeks ago, Dead & Co announced that attendees at their ongoing 31 concert tour (averaging 25,000 people) present a vaccine ID card or a negative Covid test with 48 hours prior to gain admission. I strongly supported that decision, and saw the band play last Saturday in Hershey, PA.

    In contrast, the Doobie Bros decided to not impose a vaccine mandate for their 50th anniversary tour, but then (two days ago) postponed the tour until next summer due to increasing covid cases.

    So who made the wisest decision regarding covid vaccines?

    1. You might try to avoid a false equivalence it you are really interested in learning anything.

    2. Very good examples, thank you!

  17. Only governments issue passports. If a business requires masks or proof of vaccination that’s more like having to have a Costco card to shop there.

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