The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 presented Americans with unique challenges. As local officials tried to slow the spread of the virus, some overstepped their authority and violated constitutional rights. In many cases, Alliance Defending Freedom stepped forward to defend the rights of ministry clients.
But in 2021, an unlawful power grab came from the federal government. Just weeks after the Biden administration said that a national vaccine mandate was “not the role of the federal government,” the government went back on its word.
President Biden announced that he would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to use its emergency authority to create a new, supposedly temporary, “workplace safety” rule called an Emergency Temporary Standard. This rule required employers with 100 or more employees to require all employees to be vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 weekly.
This meant that private and religious employers failing to comply would be subject to crippling fines. Eighty-four million Americans could have been affected.
But numerous lawsuits, including four from Alliance Defending Freedom, challenged this unconstitutional mandate, and in January 2022, the Supreme Court halted the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large, private employers. By the end of the month, OSHA withdrew the mandate.
Who did ADF represent against the OSHA vaccine mandate?
OSHA had no authority under the Constitution or federal law to issue this mandate and tell private businesses and nonprofits that they must force their employees to be vaccinated or submit to costly weekly testing. That’s why ADF filed federal lawsuits and emergency motions on behalf of multiple private employers, including a number of religious organizations, challenging the Biden administration’s unlawful private employer mandate.
You have probably heard of the Daily Wire, a news website and media company that produces content from commentators like Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, and Matt Walsh.
Some employees at the Daily Wire have received the vaccine, and some haven’t. Some have chosen not to get the vaccine because they have autoimmune diseases or have struggled with allergic reactions to vaccines. Some have religious or personal beliefs that prevent them from getting vaccinated.
The Daily Wire understood that there is no one-size-fits-all scenario; there is diversity among us all and Americans should be free to direct their own medical decisions. In fact, existing federal law requires the Daily Wire to respect their employees’ freedoms.
But OSHA effectively tried to force the Daily Wire to violate their employees’ freedom. By mandating private employers to force their employees to make certain medical decisions, the Biden administration stepped far past its lawful authority. That’s why ADF, along with Dhillon Law Group, stood with the Daily Wire against government overreach.
Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools (BOGCS) is a consolidated school system consisting of eight Catholic schools in the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Its mission is to form a community of faith and learning by promoting a Catholic way of life through Gospel values and academic excellence. But OSHA’s private employer vaccine mandate violated the First Amendment rights of BOGCS and invaded the autonomy of this religious organization by telling BOGCS who it can and can’t hire.
BOGCS understood that there are people of good faith who choose to get a COVID-19 vaccine. There are also people of good faith who choose not to. All BOGCS asked for is the freedom it has always had—to make its own employment decisions and respect the various views of faithful Catholics in its community.
BOGCS was also joined by the Christian Employers Alliance, which represents Christian-owned businesses, and the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Christian nonprofit organization that seeks to defend the rights of parents to make educational choices for their children.
All are committed to treating their employees with dignity, including refraining from engaging in improper coercion of their consciences. So they took a stand and represented the interests of their members against OSHA’s unlawful COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Cambridge Christian School is an evangelical Christian school in Tampa, Florida, serving Christ through excellence in academics, athletics, and fine arts. Cambridge has a vision to develop defenders of the faith by partnering with parents so generations will know God, obey His Word, and serve Him.
And in West Palm Beach, Florida, The King’s Academy (TKA) is on a mission to share salvation through Jesus Christ by developing Christian leaders who seek to impact the world through academic excellence and spiritual vitality.
OSHA’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which applied to private employers like Cambridge Christian School and TKA, violated the First Amendment rights of these schools to make employment decisions without government interference.
These organizations do not discriminate against their employees for legitimate health decisions or disability status, but OSHA's mandate would have required them to do just that: single out their employees based on their personal medical choice.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is the oldest seminary affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. With over 5,000 students currently enrolled, SBTS is one of the most highly esteemed seminaries in the state, boasting many notable alumni including Albert Mohler, its current president.
Like other religious schools and organizations, the Biden administration’s mandate attempted to force SBTS to discriminate against its own employees.
By requiring that religious employers enforce an unlawful mandate, the federal government imposed crushing and expensive administrative burdens on religious employers while also imposing substantial burdens on religious freedom. SBTS was not going to sit back and let this happen.
On Nov. 5, 2021, OSHA published the rule demanded by the Biden administration, imposing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on 84 million Americans. Within just days, ADF filed several emergency motions for our Daily Wire and SBTS cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, the State of Missouri case in the 8th Circuit, and the State of Florida case in the 11th Circuit. Many other such emergency injunctions were filed across the country.
On Nov. 12, the 5th Circuit stayed OSHA’s unlawful private employer vaccine mandate, effectively halting its implementation.
Because so many lawsuits were filed across the country against the mandate, a lottery was held by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to choose an appellate court to rule on behalf of all judicial circuits. On Nov. 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was chosen to decide all qualified lawsuits challenging the federal government’s private employer vaccine mandate.
On Dec. 17, the 6th Circuit lifted the stay issued by the 5th Circuit. ADF and others immediately asked the Supreme Court to intervene, and on Jan. 13, 2022, it issued a per curiam opinion halting the implementation of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
What’s at stake?
The choice to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is a personal medical decision. People of good faith can choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or choose not to. These choices are valid and should be respected; the federal government has no right to make that choice for American workers.
If politicians and bureaucrats are allowed to brazenly ignore the constitutional limits on their power whenever they please, we no longer live in a free society.
- Nov. 4, 2021: OSHA issued its private employer COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employers with 100 or more employees. That same day, ADF and the Dhillon Law Group filed a legal challenge on behalf of the Daily Wire at the 6th Circuit.
- Nov. 5, 2021: The private employer vaccine mandate was published in the Federal Register, and ADF filed three additional lawsuits challenging it: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the 6th Circuit, State of Missouri v. Biden in the 8th Circuit, and State of Florida v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the 11th Circuit.
- Nov. 12, 2021: The 5th Circuit stayed OSHA’s unlawful private employer vaccine mandate, effectively halting its implementation.
- Nov. 16, 2021: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was chosen by a lottery held by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to decide all qualified lawsuits challenging the federal government’s private employer vaccine mandate issued by OSHA. This consolidated ADF’s cases into one new case—In re: OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing.
- Dec. 17, 2021: A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit lifted the stay put in place by the 5th Circuit, allowing OSHA to enforce the vaccine mandate.
- Dec. 18, 2021: ADF and others immediately asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
- Jan. 7, 2022: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.
- Jan. 13, 2022: The Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion halting the implementation of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The decision was remanded back to the 6th Circuit to be decided on the merits.
- Jan. 26, 2022: OSHA withdrew the Emergency Temporary Standard.
The bottom line
Americans may have different opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine, but every American should agree that the Biden administration’s mandate was a vast and unlawful executive power grab.