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Looking for logic

| Wednesday, February 9, 2022

In the Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, edition of The Observer, Adam Morys, a junior at the University of Notre Dame, penned a letter decrying the University’s requirement that all students and staff receive a two-shot dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as a third booster shot six months after the completion of initial inoculation. Mr. Morys presented his framework for the conditions under which it would be permissible for the University to mandate such a requirement of its students and staff. Namely, he opines that the University should be subject to strict scrutiny in assessing its decision to require the COVID vaccine. From there, he lays out a series of questions, blending his remedial knowledge of the law with his budding medical acumen, posed to the administration of the University.
In this letter, I do not intend to examine Mr. Morys’ analysis of the medical side of the vaccines and their efficacy. That is not my prerogative. I instead will treat the legal arguments that Mr. Morys put forth. Namely, his assertion that the University impinges upon a supposedly sacred right to bodily autonomy through its vaccine mandate.
Mr. Morys makes several clear and egregious miscalculations in his argument, beginning from his initial treatment of the problem. The University of Notre Dame, as a private institution, is not subject to his standard of strict scrutiny. If Mr. Morys had decided to take his ineffable persuasion skills to a public university, perhaps his argument to apply exacting standards of the law would have more traction behind it. Except, it wouldn’t. During the summer of 2021, in light of Indiana University’s requirement for all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before re-matriculation that fall, the Supreme Court, through Justice Amy Coney Barrett, rejected the Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction filed in the case Klaassen et al. v. Trustees of Indiana University. This effectively cleared the way for all public universities to require their students to be inoculated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing and mask-wearing.
Additionally, Mr. Morys’ assertion that vaccine mandates are “infringements upon fundamental constitutional rights” does not carry water either. The Supreme Court held in Jacobsen v. Massachusetts that citizens could be required to receive vaccines or face criminal culpability. This, in effect, recognized that Mr. Morys does not have the “fundamental constitutional right” to refuse either to receive a mandated vaccine or face repercussions for his refusal. Moreover, in determining the Jacobsen case, the Court applied the rational basis standard, the least exacting form of judicial scrutiny and the polar opposite of Mr. Morys’ astute suggestion of strict scrutiny.
As a brief aside, my rebuke of Mr. Morys’ critique of Notre Dame’s vaccine mandate is not meant to signal my support for a nationwide mandate to receive the COVID vaccine such as the one haphazardly attempted by the Biden administration. That piece of regulatory rigmarole was ineffective and unconstitutional because of its shoddy bureaucratic processes and failure to attain legislative legitimacy.
Mr. Morys also mischaracterizes Notre Dame’s policies on the COVID vaccine. Notre Dame is not “seeking to abrogate an individual’s right to consent to a medical procedure.” If one does not want to receive a COVID vaccine, they do not need to receive it. It is one’s choice to do so. However, there are consequences to every choice, and for this particular choice, the effects are having to wear a mask on campus and submit to regular testing.
Additionally, His Holiness Pope Francis, in June 2021, stated that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine was a “moral obligation.” This should make abundantly clear to any rational observer that as a Catholic university, Notre Dame not only has the moral authority but an “obligation,” as the Pope put it, to ensure that its community is as safe as it can be.
With all of this in mind, Mr. Morys’ approach to the logic behind the University’s COVID vaccine mandate is flawed from the very start. The University is not subject to strict scrutiny in deciding to require the vaccine. The law does not preclude one from having the state require them to be inoculated (if properly legislated). Finally, the University is not requiring that anyone get vaccinated unequivocally and without an alternative. This does not even begin to touch on Mr. Morys’ patently false pretexts, which straddle the line between disinformation and conspiracy, against receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
As a brief conclusion, I would pose to Mr. Morys that if he so opposed to the University of Notre Dame’s “contradictory” mandate, why does he still attend this school? There are plenty of higher education institutions across the country that do not have a vaccine requirement. If he is unable to articulate a cogent argument against the requirement and still wishes to thumb his nose at the administration, then leave. We will be all the better for it.
Jon Boehmer
Feb. 7

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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