The response to COVID-19 continues to reveal ever-widening political fissures in the United States with new bills in the U.S. Senate that would put an end to vaccine and masks mandates.
Three weeks after the bills’ introduction, the Department of Education announced it had opened civil rights investigations into five statewide bans on mask mandates to determine if they discriminate against students with disabilities by exposing them to risk.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) are co-sponsoring two bills, the “No Mask Mandates Act” and the “No Vaccine Mandates Act.” The No Mask Mandates Act would end public mask mandates for Americans regardless of vaccine status. The No Vaccine Mandates Act would impose civil penalties for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to someone without informed consent.
“We as a country have taken extraordinary steps to defeat this disease, and I’m proud we’ve taken these steps,” Cruz said in a press release on August 9. “Unfortunately, we have also imposed enormous harms on our economy and our people’s lives and livelihoods, and we need to balance all of this appropriately. My view on vaccines is simple. I got the vaccine because it was the right choice for me. But I also believe in individual freedom. No one should force anyone to take the vaccine – including the federal government or an employer. Americans should have the choice to make their own medical decisions in consultation with their doctor.”
“Guidance Has Been Inconsistent and Haphazard”
“Efforts by the Biden administration and its allies to bully or force people to comply with mask or vaccines mandates – even though their guidance has been inconsistent and haphazard throughout the pandemic – will only succeed in infringing upon the rights of the American people,” Cramer said in the August 9 press release. “Our legislation would protect Americans by preventing the federal government from allowing itself to make these important decisions on their behalf.”
The Mask Mandate Act would end President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring people to wear masks on public property regardless of vaccination status and on airplanes, trains, buses, and other passenger facilities. It would prohibit similar federal mandates in the future and ensure that no tax dollars are spent enforcing mask rules in response to COVID-19.
The No Vaccine Mandates Act “aims to protect the right of personal autonomy and advanced informed consent by prohibiting vaccine mandates, making it unlawful for anyone to receive a COVID-19 vaccination originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) without first obtaining the patient’s informed consent,” according to the press release. “That includes all COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States.”
The Act also protects a parent’s right to authorize consent before administering a COVID-19 shot to those under 18 years of age. Some communities, like the District of Columbia, allow children to get vaccinations without their parent’s or guardian’s permission.
Tightening Mask Rules
The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has sent letters to school officials in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah saying bans on universal mask requirements could prevent schools from implementing policies that protect students from COVID-19, particularly those with underlying medical conditions “related to their disability.”
The Education Department did not include Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, or Texas in its investigation, four states that have banned mask mandates, likely because the bans in those states are not being enforced. The states that were sent letters from the OCR could face threats of the OCR withholding federal funds.
“This is what happens when an administration gets in bed with teachers’ unions and left-wing special interests,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the top Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, in a September 9 statement. “It is inappropriate for the Office of Civil Rights to spend taxpayer dollars to intimidate states that are responsive to parents’ needs and balance and balance freedom with public health.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.