The Property We Have in Our Rights
No person has a natural or a divine right to rule over another person unless the latter person gives intelligent consent. This is a fundamental axiom of our American government. The axiom takes root in the ideas expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed[.]"
The president of the United States, however, ignores these principles and continues to push public- and private-sector employers to force vaccine mandates on their employees. Many companies have acquiesced. More companies will follow. Let's look to an action taken by Delta Airlines as one example.
Chief financial officer Ed Bastian recently grafted a $200 surcharge onto Delta's company-sponsored health care plan. Delta requires new employees to be vaccinated. The surcharge affects only current Delta employees who remain unvaccinated. Bastian's decision to surcharge Delta's unvaccinated employees exemplifies a coercive initiative instituted by the federal government, leading Delta to an abuse of its employees.
Herein lies the danger. When our national government co-opts cooperation from corporate entities to actualize the goals of the federal government for COVID-19, our individual right to private property and the property we have in our rights are placed in jeopardy. Let's look at three of these jeopardized rights with the assistance of another Founding Father.
On March 27, 1792, the National Gazette published James Madison's letter titled "On Property." Madison begins the letter by defining both the particular and the broader understanding of the word property.
This term in its particular application means "that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual."
In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.
In the former sense, a man's land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.
In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.
Madison also names other species of property:
He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.
He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.
He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.
Madison then makes this point:
In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.
Below are three human rights that I believe are being trodden upon by government and corporate officials through vaccine mandates.
First, vaccine mandates violate the property we have as individual persons in the free exercise of our private conscience. Government or corporate vaccine mandates supplant the informed conscience of individual persons for the coercive and self-righteous virtue-signaling of a few elites. In his letter, Madison is clear: "Conscience is the most sacred of all property," as a natural and inalienable right, independent of positive law. C.S. Lewis also proclaims the importance of conscience when conscience is "the pressure a man feels upon his will to do what he thinks is right." Here, says Lewis, conscience "is not to be argued with, but obeyed, and even to question it is to incur guilt."1 Thus, to compel any person to obey a vaccine mandate is to place that same person at war with his conscience, without his consent, and against his better judgement.
Second, vaccine mandates induce people to violate their personal liberty and safety. Madison understood that a man "has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person." No one is truly at liberty to choose for oneself whether to accept a COVID vaccine, or not, when either the state or one's employer offers a manipulative choice: get the vaccine or be subject to masking and weekly COVID tests. These unsatisfactory options breach the state's duty to safeguard our individual rights. And corporate mandates to vaccinate fall outside the purview of our employers. Moreover, every person shares an equal dignity with each person calling for a vaccine mandate. Equal dignity stands as part of our Judeo-Christian tradition, which sees each person as someone created in God's image. Therefore, our shared human dignity demands that no person force some other person to receive an unwanted or unnecessary or potentially harmful vaccine without the recipient's informed consent.
Third, Delta's $200-a-month "surcharge" is an act of thievery. The money distributed by an employer to an employee through a paycheck is the exclusive property of that employee for the service that employee has rendered to the company. Except in cases of legal garnishment, to discriminately withhold part of the wage owed to an employee denies said employee the full-fruit that, in Madison's view, results from "the free use of their faculties ... which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called." And Delta's punitive partial-wage withholding will likely prove to be a violation of the working agreement between Delta and its employees.
It will be argued that masks and vaccine mandates are in the best interest of the common good, which is superior to individual rights. While the common good is sometimes superior to individual rights, this isn't always the case. For example, Bastian claims that Delta's surcharge is necessary to address the $50,000 cost associated with each hospitalized employee stricken with COVID-19. There's certainly some truth in that claim. However, Bastian neither claims nor demonstrates that only unvaccinated Delta employees are hospitalized with COVID. In all likelihood, Delta's employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, sometimes require hospitalization. It's therefore unjust to oblige only Delta's unvaccinated employees to pay the surcharge.
Individual persons possess rights, not collective groups. And while no person should be placed into a one-size-fits-all COVID response box, we must balance our assertion to individual rights with our collective duties measured to particular circumstances. As Madison knew:
Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.
Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho' from an opposite cause.
Madison call us to the prudent use and courageous defense of those rights we have in our property and the property we have in our rights. In exercising and defending our rights, we must think as shrewdly as the serpent and carry ourselves as innocently as the dove.
1 C.S. Lewis, "Why I Am Not A Pacifist," in The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper One, 1980), p. 64.
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