State Republican lawmakers are pushing bills to grant unvaccinated people civil rights protections, Axios reports.
The bills aim to force private businesses to allow employees to skip the coronavirus vaccine and serve unvaccinated customers.
Some Republican-led states have already instituted policies banning vaccine passports but some state lawmakers want to enshrine protections for the unvaccinated by using the same language as found in civil rights law.
“When we think about the normal discrimination statutes…we have protected classes based on something that is sort of inherent to you, with religion maybe being the one that is a choice," Lowell Pearson of Husch Blackwell, which has been tracking the bills, told Axios. "But vaccination status you certainly can control."
Low-vax states back laws:
The state lawmakers backing these bills are primarily in states that have lower vaccination rates, which have also seen concerning increases in infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
“Most of the measures are full of loopholes or have limited application, meaning unvaccinated residents may still face consequences for their decision,” Axios noted, but employers have generally shied away from vaccination requirements.
"It’s difficult to see exactly why there’s such an intense reaction here, except through the lens of hyper-partisan politics; that this has just become another signal of party affiliation," Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, told the outlet.
Some laws already enacted:
Montana has already made it illegal to “discriminate” on the basis of vaccine status, though it included exemptions for some health care facilities. The law bans the government and businesses from refusing to serve anyone based on vaccination status.
“This is a civil rights statute. It absolutely is," Bagley said. "What this law is saying is that a restriction directed at the unvaccinated is prohibited in the same way as you'd be prohibited from putting up a sign saying, 'no Irish admitted.'"
Alabama has also passed a law banning schools and colleges from requiring vaccines and ban businesses from refusing to serve someone based on vaccination status.
Several other states have also implemented similar laws aimed at schools and local governments.
But lawmakers across the country are pushing bills similar to the Montana law.
“When a legislature passes an anti-vaccine law, it sends a signal to businesses not to deploy any kind of vaccine system," Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University, told Axios. “The whole idea behind a good vaccination campaign is making not getting vaccinated the harder choice, and getting vaccinated the easy choice. Right now it’s the exact opposite — it’s easier not to be vaccinated."