Mandatory Vaccines: A Biblical, Legal & Historical Analysis

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Government mandated vaccinations are nothing new in our nation’s history.  However, this year has brought an increased intensity to the debate.  In order to equip Christians to respond to the challenges presented by mandated vaccinations (whether from the political leaders or places of business) IPS will answer three questions:

  1. What does the Bible say about vaccine mandates?
  2. What does the law say about vaccine mandates?
  3. What does history teach us about vaccine mandates?

As we prepare to answer these questions, it is necessary to remind the reader of two truths.  First of all, IPS is neither for nor against vaccines – we are against vaccine mandates.  Secondly, our answers to these questions are not meant to be exhaustive.  Our purpose is to start the conversation – to help Christians think critically about this subject – and to equip Christians to take a principled stand against vaccine mandates. 

There is one other important point to address, which is a matter of practicality.  “What practical steps can Christians take to combat vaccine mandates?”  A list of suggested actions items will be supplied in a separate article.  For now, this essay deals with principles in relation to the questions above.

Question 1:  The Bible

Has God Granted Authority To The Civil Government To Mandate Vaccinations?

It is always helpful to start with foundational principles.  All authority belongs to the triune God.  What authority He delegates to human governments is limited – where those limits are prescribed is in the pages of Scripture.  In other words, God has not given the civil government the power of the sword and then left it up to them to figure out for themselves when to use that power. 

We have been accustomed in our day to accept the idea that the civil government will be involved in health, education and welfare.  That familiarity with a government out of bounds, makes it difficult for us to identify the proper limits of civil authority.  However, when we search the pages of Scripture we find a very narrowly defined function given to the civil government.  What does our search reveal?  The civil magistrate’s one function is to be God’s minister of justice – to punish the evil-doer and to praise the righteous (see Romans 13:1-7). 

Nowhere in the Bible will you find authority given to the civil government in the area of preventive health.  In fact, each instance where infectious disease is mentioned, the authority to quarantine resides in the church leaders, not the state (see for instance Leviticus 13, Luke 17:12-14 & Mark 1:40-44).  Even if we were to grant the argument that the state does have authority in matters of health (something wholly unsupported by Scripture), notice that in the passages referenced above people were only restricted if symptoms were present.  On top of that, when symptoms were present, no health care was coerced or prescribed, only quarantine was required.   

What can we conclude?  Not only are vaccine mandates prohibited by God to the civil government, it is prohibited by any government to force a vaccine.  The most you could possibly argue from Scripture is a quarantine, and that by church authority and only for those displaying symptoms of an infectious disease.  The use of force to compel someone to take a vaccination is tyranny and should be resisted by every Christian who loves God and their neighbor.

Has God Granted Authority To Private Individuals To Require Vaccinations For Their Employees?

But what of private companies?  Many people opposed to the COVID vaccination on grounds of health concerns or moral concerns are being required by their employer to get a vaccination or face termination.  What does the Bible say about business owners?

It is clear in Scripture that private property ownership is a core principle when it comes to God-given rights.  Two of the Ten Commandments establish this fact (the 8th and the 10th).  Furthermore, the principle of the private ownership of property implies the right of the individual to determine how his property is used.  This is the very point made by Peter in his rebuke to Ananias, “While it remained, was it not your own?  And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (Acts 5:4)  Consider also the argument made by Jesus in His parable of the workers in the vineyard, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (Matthew 20:15)  Though control of private property was not the main point in these two passages, the arguments would make no sense if this principle was not true.

Where does this bring us when we consider business owners requiring vaccines for their employees to work for them?  Employers may require vaccination as a condition to work at their own business.  This is not to say that employees who harbor objections to the COVID vaccination should willingly accede to this demand (we will deal more with the practical later), but only that employers have a right to demand conditions for work at their business.  If the worker does not like those conditions, he may find work elsewhere.  Just as the employer has property rights in his business, so too the employee has property rights in his labor.  Each may do what they will with their own.

Question 2:  The Law 

Does The US Constitution Authorize The Federal Government To Mandate Vaccinations?

Simply put, the US Constitution does not authorize the federal government to mandate vaccinations.  The nature of our constitution is what is known as an “express powers” or “enumerated powers” document.  What that means is that only powers expressly listed in the Constitution are granted to the federal government.  If it’s not on the list, the federal government has no authority to do it.

A quick survey of Articles 1 – 3 (where the powers of the three branches are listed) will fail to turn up even a remote hint at authority given to the federal government to mandate health care.  Therefore, any federal mandate of a vaccination is a violation of the Constitution and should be resisted by every concerned citizen.

Why then do we hear the all too common refrain that vaccine mandates are “constitutional?”  This stems from a Supreme Court case in 1905 – Jacobson v. Massachusetts.  In 1902, a smallpox epidemic broke out in the city of Cambridge leading the city to institute mandatory vaccines or face a fine.  Concerns over health lead Jacobson to object.  The court, ruling in favor of the local mandate, found that the police powers of the state could rightly be used to “protect the public health and safety.”  While that standard is arbitrary and open for abuse, some took comfort in the court’s warning,

The police power of a State, whether exercised by the legislature, or by a local body acting under its authority, may be exerted in such circumstances or by regulations so arbitrary and oppressive in particular cases as to justify the interference of the courts to prevent wrong and oppression.

Of course, when that justification for interference is warranted was never spelled out by the court, and as we will see later on in our lessons from history, this notion of the state acting in matters of health for “public safety” has led to chilling results.

Does State And Local Law Authorize The State Government To Mandate Vaccinations?

It seems clear that no federal authority was granted to force vaccinations, but was the Supreme Court right in asserting, as they did in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, that local governments have the authority to mandate vaccines?  A good case can be made to answer that question in the negative on two grounds: 1) our foundational principles, and 2) the 14th Amendment.

Our country was founded on the principle that all people were made by God and therefore have received rights from Him – rights that no man has the authority to take away.  In fact, those rights precede civil government and the only reason civil government was established was to secure those rights.  By what authority then can any government take away a person’s right to make their own health choices?  That is one of the liberties our country’s governments were established to secure. 

There is more to the story though.  The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states in section 1, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law…” [emphasis mine].  Most vaccine mandates are not done by way of legislative act but by administrative decree.  Furthermore, with vaccine mandates the government is not required to demonstrate that each citizen needs to get a vaccine, the citizen is required to demonstrate why he does not need one.  This flips the judicial process on its head. 

Although I believe strong legal arguments can be made against government mandated vaccines, it is important for Christians to keep in mind that there is no moral obligation to submit to these mandates – even if they were legal.  The civil government only has the authority to compel to the degree that its decrees align with God’s moral law.  As we have seen in our first section, that standard has not been met in the area of government mandated vaccines.

Question 3:  History

What Does History Teach About Governments Taking Authority To Mandate Health Choices?

The pages of history are littered with the sad tales of the wrecked lives of people subjected to whims of a state looking out for their own good.  When the for-your-own-good mentality is allowed to reign as an operating principle of civil government, destruction follows.  We would do well to heed the warnings of history.

Soviet Russia and Stalin’s man-made famine in Ukraine, Nazi Germany and Hitler’s eugenic nightmare, and Communist China’s one-child policy and its forced abortions and sterilizations should all serve fair warning to any careful student as to what happens when a government looks out for the health of its citizens.  Do we really want our government deciding for us what is best for our own health? 

I can almost hear the objection, “But that can’t happen here in the United States!  Certainly our Constitution has secured for us freedom from those dangers.”  Remember that vaccine case we looked at earlier – Jacobson v. Massachusetts?  In 1927, just twenty-two years after that case was decided, our very own Supreme Court was faced with the question, “Can a state forcibly sterilize a young lady deemed unworthy of giving birth?”  Listen to the opinion of the Court and note carefully its reasoning,

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

That was 1927.  Certainly we have matured as a country since then.  Lest you rest content in our societal progress, remember what has just happened this last year and a half.  We have seen our own civil government shut down businesses, forbid corporate worship, require wearing masks, prohibit family members from comforting their sick and dying, shut down homeless ministries and addiction ministries, forbid international travel, send COVID infected elderly to bring death in nursing homes, and now mandate vaccines, all in the name of public health and safety.  Are these the “liberties” we would be proud to hand down to our grandchildren?  Do we really want the civil government looking out for our health?  It is our prayer at IPS that love of God and neighbor will compel Christians to jealously guard their liberties that have been so costly to obtain.