Utah Republicans have some weird ideas of what ‘freedom’ is, George Pyle writes

You have no more right to avoid vaccines than you do to poop in the supermarket’s produce section.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters waving American flags and holding signs decrying mask and vaccine mandates gathered along the curb of 700 East in Liberty Park Saturday, making Salt Lake City one of dozens of cities around the world protesting public health-related restrictions, Sept. 18, 2021.

If the government ordered us all to stay home. If it told us we couldn’t go to a restaurant or a bar or a theater. That school and work for most of us had to be done from home. Then one might say the government was taking away our rights.

If a mob of violent hooligans filling the streets made it too dangerous to leave our homes, or to go to restaurants or bars or theaters, or to school or the office, it wouldn’t be government action taking away our freedom. But some of the fault would lie with government inaction.

And if one level of government wanted to arrest the members of the violent mob, making it possible for us to again go about our business unmolested, while another level stood up for the right to commit mayhem, then who would it be that was protecting our rights and who would it be that was denying them?

The Declaration of Independence is clear that the point of government is to “secure these rights.” Which means that, if we are to live freely, then the government must do things to create an environment where we may choose what to do and where to go. That’s everything from arresting criminals and repelling invasions to building roads we can travel on as we please to installing, and mandating the use of, clean water systems, sewage systems and other public health measures that included, until our world went nuts, mandated vaccinations for students, soldiers and sane people.

Claiming the right to move about in society during a pandemic without receiving the vaccinations that have been conjured up for us makes absolutely no sense. It is the moral equivalent of demanding the right to poop on the floor in the grocery store.

Actually, refusing the COVID-19 vaccination is probably worse than relieving yourself in the produce section, because nearly everyone would immediately avoid that aisle — if not the whole store — and dodge an obvious public health hazard. Those who don’t get the jab don’t so obviously stink, so we can’t tell who to stay away from.

Yet we have a platoon of Utah Republicans who continue to fight against vaccination mandates.

Thursday, Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee was threatening to shut down the government — again — unless he got a vote on a measure to defund President Joe Biden’s workplace vaccination or testing mandates. He got the vote, and it blessedly failed, on a party-line 50-48 vote.

Lee absurdly calls his move to block workplace vaccination mandates an effort “to give the American worker a chance.” Right. A chance to get, or spread, a horrible disease, run up a huge hospital bill and die with a tube rammed down your windpipe. Lovely.

And we have the vision of state Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who led the campaign in the Utah Legislature to declare the pandemic over — not based on any scientific or medical reasoning, but because he was tired of it — resigning his seat to take a legislative affairs job at the Utah Department of Health. Legislative affairs, Ray knows. Health? No so much.

And we have Republicans such as Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Senate President Stuart Adams calling vaccination mandates an invasion of the right of individuals to make personal health care decisions.

In the midst of a global pandemic, being vaccinated is anything but a personal health care decision. It is a duty, a minimal expectation for anyone living in a civilized society.

Vaccines might well have ended the threat of COVID-19 well before we got to the point of having to learn to spell, or pronounce, “omicron.” If compliance hereabouts were 90% instead of Utah’s current 60%, not only would our bodies be much less likely to become ill, or fill up all the ICU beds, we would have much less concern that another variant wave might to close our schools or stores again.

Vaccination mandates work. Businesses that have instituted them have reported high levels of compliance, often after a lot of public grumbling. New York City, once the epicenter of coronavirus deaths, has reopened theaters and restaurants and not come to regret it due to vaccinations being required for anyone entering those venues. Germany is poised to do the same.

I have heard the argument that attacking people who are reluctant to get the jab can be counterproductive, as well as just mean, as it only stiffens some people’s objecting spines. And there’s truth in that.

But for those with the bully pulpit, opposing vaccine mandates is not an attempt to expand our freedoms. It is a way of undermining everyone’s right to go about our business without fear.


George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was very happy to show his vaccination card the other night at the Broadway Centre Cinemas, where he enjoyed the absurdist “The French Dispatch.”


Twitter, @debatestate