Compulsory Vaccines: Personal Liberty Violation or Public Health Necessity?
In recent weeks, a measles outbreak in parts of the U.S. has led to a renewed discussion on vaccinations and their impacts on society. Some have called for certain vaccines to be mandatory while others have argued this would be an overreach of government power that infringes on individual liberty and religious beliefs. Objectives:
- Students will examine previous Supreme Court cases that have considered the balance between the public good and individual liberty of parents
- Students will assess the arguments on each side of the compulsory vaccination debate and determine their own beliefs on the issue
- Handout A: Excerpts from James Madison, On Property (Document B)
- Handout B: Wisconsin v. Yoder (Document D, pg. 2)
- Handout C: Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
Warm-up Activity (20 minutes) Directions: Have students read Handout A (Document B) and answer the following questions.
- What does Madison argue is the responsibility of a just government?
- Madison states that, “conscience is the most sacred of all property.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree? Give details from either the reading or outside sources to support your argument.
- In the past, “freedom of conscience” generally meant that an individual couldn’t be coerced to do something that went against their religious beliefs. Should freedom of conscience only apply for those practicing a religion? Explain your reasoning.
Activity (40 minutes) Directions: Have students read Handout B (Document D, pg. 2) and Handout C. Use the following questions to lead a class discussion.
- How did the Supreme Court rule in these two cases? Did it favor parent rights or the rights of the State?
- In Wisconsin v. Yoder, the majority opinion ruled that only if “the physical or mental health of the child” is impaired, then the government may intervene against the wishes of the parent. Is this applicable for the issue of compulsory vaccinations?
- Based on your understanding of the readings, do you think that a parent has the right to exercise freedom of conscience-whether for religious or other reasons-to choose not to vaccinate their child?
Extension Activity The Bill of Rights Institute’s Think the Vote platform is designed to foster student debate and discussion of current events issues. This week, our question is: should vaccines in the United States be compulsory? Students with the best answer on each side of the debate will win a $25 Amazon gift card, a BRI t-shirt, and be entered for the chance to win $1,000. You can access Think the Vote here.