Calls it an ‘abuse of executive power’
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments today from attorneys representing two Christian seminaries challenging one of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates.
The Christian legal nonprofit represents Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary.
The ETS mandate forces private employers of 100 or more employees to require vaccination or weekly testing and masking for their employees.
“This is a case of unprecedented federal overreach,” the petitioners said, opposing the mandate for its violation of religious freedom.
The petitioners challenged the mandate based on the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, calling it “an abuse of executive power.”
Mandate interferes with religious freedom
The seminaries said that the Biden administration cannot assert jurisdiction over religious nonprofit institutions like seminaries when such jurisdiction forces the federal government to involve themselves in decisions regarding “inherently religious matters.”
If the mandate were to be enforced, attorneys said, the federal government would necessarily interfere with the missions and everyday management of religious institutions, for the mandate “effectively commandeers Petitioners – religious seminaries – as deputies” to impose vaccination, testing and masking measures.
Enforcement of the mandate would also require government intrusion into employees’ private medical decisions and the seminaries’ records.
The lawsuit said the mandate enables the federal government “to commandeer religious institutions to enforce federal mandates on their own ministers and employees – many of whom may have sincere religious and conscientious objections to the government’s mandate.”
The universities said that they do not oppose vaccines in general but oppose what they see as infringement on the conscience of their employees. “[The seminaries’] Christian faith requires them to respect their employees’ religious decisions to remain unvaccinated and to not burden those beliefs.”
The seminaries said that such federal intrusion violates both First Amendment rights and RFRA, which places the burden on the federal government to prove it must violate someone’s religious beliefs in order to obtain a “compelling government interest.”
The federal government, the seminaries argue, do not have justification for such a wide-reaching vaccination requirement.
The plaintiffs do not challenge that federal law, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the executive branch power of the workplace. But the law, according to the lawsuit, does not allow the Biden administration to “impose sweeping public health measures.”
The lawsuit noted that one of President Donald Trump’s Labor Department secretaries said “SARS-CoV-2 is not uniquely a workplace hazard.”
The financial cost of enforcing the mandate would harm the seminaries without compelling justification, as would the “irreparable injury” of deprivation of First Amendment freedoms.
“It is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said in a statement. “We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”
“The fact that the largest U.S. seminaries of the Baptist and Methodist traditions are here standing together against this mandate should send a clear and urgent message to Christians and to the nation,” Mohler said.
IMAGE: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons