DeSantis on vaccine passports: My job is to protect individual freedom, not corporate freedom

“My job is to protect individual freedom, not corporate freedom” is a nice applause line for an ambitious populist. But we know the response, don’t we?

Ah well. A different time.

A hypothetical: The local Florida restaurant owner wants to restrict his premises to vaccinated customers only. I, a vaccinated Floridian, approve of his decision and decide to eat at his joint because I believe his space will pose less of a health risk to me. You, an unvaccinated Floridian, decide that’s not fair because you want to eat there too even though you’ll be putting me and other customers at higher risk potentially.

Why does your freedom trump my freedom and the restaurateur’s freedom in DeSantis’s eyes? Besides the fact you’re more likely to be a GOP primary voter and he wants you to turn out for him in the 2024 primary, I mean.

My business, my rules. That’s a traditional individual freedom recognized by conservatives, especially in cases where a customer waltzes in and informs the proprietor that he’d better cater his gay wedding or else. And it’s self-serving for DeSantis to frame the question here as “corporations versus individuals” when, as far as I’m aware, his ban on vaccine passports applies equally to small businesses. I.e. individuals.

If this is all about limiting corporate power instead of doing a solid for anti-vaxxers, why didn’t he insist on excluding mom-and-pop businesses from the ban? “Only businesses with more than 50 employees shall be prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination by customers,” etc.

And by the way, contra DeSantis, at no point in my hypothetical does the restaurant owner invade anyone’s privacy. If you don’t want to answer his question about your vaccination status, that’s your right. Just eat somewhere else.

An earnest question for Floridians, as there’s a lot of confusion on this subject. Is it only vaccine passports for customers that are banned by DeSantis or is it also vaccine mandates for employees that are banned? Logically one should support both or oppose both. If you believe in “my business, my rules,” then an employer should be able to tell his own workers that vaccination is a requirement for being on the premises the same way he should be able to tell customers. If you believe that an anti-vaxxer’s rights should trump everyone else’s, then an employee should have the right to reject his boss’s demand to get vaccinated the same way the customer should have the right to reject the owner’s demand for proof of vaccination before entering.

To borrow a favorite (and poor) analogy of anti-vaxxers, if vaccine passports are unacceptable because they “discriminate” against certain customers, vaccine employer mandates are no better since they also “discriminate” against certain workers. We wouldn’t tolerate a restaurant that says black diners are welcome but no black chefs need apply.

Yet DeSantis does seem to tolerate that logic, though. He opposes vaccine passports for customers but doesn’t oppose employer vaccine mandates for employees. Or at least that’s what local media in Florida reports:

In Florida, there’s been confusion around this issue, partly due to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on so-called vaccine passports. However, legal experts tell us the ban applies to customers and patrons of businesses – not employees…

“Employers can require their employees in Florida to be vaccinated,” Meredith Gaunce, an employment attorney in St. Petersburg, explained.

Pursuant to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, your boss can mandate vaccination and proof as long as two exemptions are provided: a medical and religious exemption.

Others who specialize in Florida labor law have taken note that DeSantis’s executive orders don’t bar business owners from requiring workers to get vaccinated, only from demanding proof of vaccination from customers. Is that because DeSantis believes he couldn’t legally prohibit employer mandates under federal law? I don’t think he’s barred from doing so. The EEOC permits business owners to require employees to get vaxxed, but it certainly doesn’t compel them to.

So why hasn’t DeSantis banned employer mandates in the name of “individual freedom”? Robby Soave of Reason is under the impression that he has, contrasting the clip of DeSantis up above unfavorably with Kristi Noem’s recent statement that she’ll allow business owners in South Dakota to set their own vaccination rules for employees. “This is not the way,” Soave tweeted about what DeSantis said. “The Kristi Noem approach is the way.” But it’s the same approach! DeSantis has the same policy as her on employer mandates. And Noem, like DeSantis, has also banned vaccine passports for customers in her state, which means they take the same curiously divergent view of “my business, my rules” with respect to vaccination. Both agree with the sentiment in how a business manages its workers but disagree with it in how a business engages with its customers. Why?

Is it just a matter of corporate muscle in both cases? For all of DeSantis’s defiant words about protecting individual freedom against corporate muscle, maybe corporate execs pulled DeSantis aside and said, “Listen, we’re fine with banning vaccine passports so that the unvaccinated keep coming through the door and spending money but we don’t want them in the office next to us. Don’t mess with employer mandates.” If DeSantis cares about the individual freedom of those unvaccinated employees, why not go to war with the suits on their behalf?

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