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Between Requiring and Banning Proof of Vaccination there is Liberty

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

-          Viktor E. Frankl

What are we to think of moves by Texas and Florida Republicans to ban private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination before entering their premises or engaging with their employees? Without a doubt such policies are popular with the Republican grassroots, but are they based on the right principles? 

Sadly, no. 

Many people skeptical about government power and about Covid-19 itself have agitated against “vaccine passports” and against any requirement to take the vaccine or to have to prove that they have been vaccinated. 

And it’s probably correct that government agencies should not require proof of vaccination for Covid-19 in order to obtain necessary services from government. That’s probably an untenable intrusion on Americans’ sense of personal privacy, although of course schools have for decades required proof of vaccination for school attendance. 

But in reaction to fears about vaccine passports, Republicans in Texas and Florida have swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, banning private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. Is that a principled and courageous stand for personal liberty? 

Again, no. 

Government requiring proof of vaccination and government banning such requirements are two unnecessary extremes, and ironically BOTH represent government overreach.  Between government requiring proof of vaccination and government banning requirements for proof of vaccination, there is a space. An enormous gulf, in fact. And in that space is what we call liberty. 

If government required proof of vaccination to obtain necessary government services such as unemployment, assistance, driver’s license renewal, etc., almost everyone would see that as an objectionable limitation on personal freedom. 

But when government bars private actors such as businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, that is ALSO an objectionable limitation on personal freedom—the freedom of the businesses to set the conditions under which consumers can patronize their services. 

You see, government doesn’t have to do one or the other. It’s not binary. Government can (and should) choose to do NEITHER. 

In a free-market, businesses are free to determine the conditions under which they operate. Now, we’ve modified that a bit with public accommodation laws that bar discrimination on the basis of race, sex and religious orientation, but we still allow restaurants for instance to deny service to people based on their attire or conduct. Other than overt racial, religious or sexual discrimination, we allow businesses to operate in the way they see fit. 

Cruise ships are known, fairly or unfairly, for being prone to the spread of infectious disease. It’s not unusual to hear about the spread of an infectious disease aboard a cruise ship because of the close accommodations and the shared water and food sources. So one can understand why a cruise line, eager to resume serving customers, would want to insist on proof of vaccination against a highly contagious disease such as Covid-19. And they should be permitted to, given their highly specialized knowledge of their own industry, their potential legal liability, their concern for their own staff, and their need to attract a staff. 

But Republican lawmakers in both Florida and Texas have rushed headlong into this fray, with both states enacting laws barring private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. 

Based on limited government, free-market principles, politicians should stay out of this area and allow businesses and their customers to negotiate the terms of their relationship in the give-and-take of the market, without government interference. Businesses are private property, and businesses have rights to their economic liberty. 

So, in this episode, we have no choice but to chide our fellows in Texas and Florida for acting in a way that is contrary to limited government, free-market principles. No, the legislatures of Texas and Florida should not have passed bills barring private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination if they so choose, and no, Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott should not have signed such legislation. In both cases, so-called believers in free-markets and limited government have violated their own principles in a quest for populist approval.

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