Alabama Needs to Look at Its Vaccine-Passport Ban Again

Towards the end of this legislative session, the State of Alabama passed SB267, which is commonly called Alabama’s vaccine passport ban. The law is pretty short, and it prohibits four things. First, it generally prohibits the government from issuing vaccine passports or forcing you to share your vaccination status with anyone. Second, it forbids the government from forcing you to get a vaccine as a condition of receiving government services or entering a government building. Third, it generally prohibits educational institutions from requiring students to get COVID vaccines as a condition of receiving an education. Finally, it prohibits businesses from refusing to serve or allow entry to a customer based on their vaccination status.

However, as the Delta variant spreads, the State of Alabama and some institutions that the State runs are having difficulty abiding by the law.

For instance, a source has provided the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty with the State Personnel Department’s newly issued COVID guidance, which took effect on August 9. According to the SPD, fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks. They may report to work if they are exposed to COVID-19 but show no symptoms. Finally, if they get COVID-19 and have to quarantine, then they may work remotely without having to use their accrued leave.

In contrast, nonvaccinated individuals must wear masks at all times. If they are exposed to someone with COVID, then they remain quarantined for 10 days. The most draconian part of this policy, however, is that nonvaccinated individuals are not allowed to work remotely and must use their accrued leave if forced into quarantine.

Thus, the SPD has gone beyond simply taking measures to protect its employees from COVID. Instead, it has created a caste system that discriminates between vaccinated and nonvaccinated individuals, imposing harsh penalties on the nonvaccinated that may even cost them their jobs.

What does this all have to do with the vaccine-passport ban? Remember, the law prohibits the State from forcing an individual to share his or her vaccination status. Thus, the SPD’s policy is not only draconian, but enforcing it would be illegal. Just as it is foolish to build a castle on the sand, it is also foolish to build a policy on lawbreaking.

Further, ACLL has been hearing that government officials have been threatening not to renew business licenses unless the business owners can prove their vaccination status. Again, this is illegal because the State is forcing people to share their vaccination status. 

Finally, some public universities have been making distinctions between the vaccinated and the nonvaccinated. For instance, the University of North Alabama mandates masks indoors for unvaccinated students, and the University of West Alabama mandates masks for unvaccinated RA’s. If an unvaccinated student cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition, then forcing him to choose between wearing a mask or getting vaccinated may constitute an illegal condition of receiving an education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for everyone. It is not my intent to demonize those who may have inadvertently violated the vaccine-passport ban. On the contrary, I believe most of us want the same thing: saving people’s lives while keeping the State running. But after a year of dealing with the pandemic, the State has decided that there have to be some rules for how we deal with it.

So before threatening lawsuits, let me offer some advice to those listening: check your COVID-19 policies with your legal department and ensure they comply with the law. If they don’t, then change them before the lawsuits start coming.

The State has no right to create caste systems among its employees or deny business licenses to its citizens based on vaccination status. Should the government follow through on those policies, ACLL is prepared to fight for those whom the government harmed through its illegal and draconian actions.

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