There were some valid initial reasons to question President Joe Biden’s recent order compelling employers of 100 or more workers to take steps meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

At first glance, and perhaps thanks to a flurry of imprecise headlines and news leads, it appeared to be the flip side of blanket mandates such as those issued by some state governors forbidding mask and vaccination requirements.

“Sweeping vaccination mandate” might have been the three most common words in circulation during the days just after Biden announced his intention.

But Biden didn’t issue a vaccine mandate. He presented the employers of about 100 million American workers with an either-or proposition. Either require employees to be vaccinated, or set up systems to ensure they test negative at least once a week.

In fact, none of those 100 million workers would be forced into accepting the jab under Biden’s order. They all instead can opt for weekly testing.

That fundamental difference got lost in the initial hue and cry over Biden’s order.

The option sets Biden’s order somewhat apart from orders such as those Gov. Greg Abbott issued forbidding public employers from requiring vaccines or masks or doing much of anything else in attempt to manage the very real havoc COVID can wreak on their operations, people and bottom lines.

We often have stuck up for the concept of local control and will continue to do so. There are, however, no local-control angels in this case.

The state and federal governments are tossing blankets of various density over situations that vary in detail from place to place.

It’s valid to argue Biden’s order is an intrusion on local control, reasonable in some places and burdensome in others; but that same criticism is valid for Abbott’s orders.

And there’s an even more fundamental difference between the two. It’s a difference of intent.

It’s one thing to usurp local control in attempt to keep people from getting sick and dying and to prevent the economic loss that workplace COVID outbreaks cause.

It’s another do so in service of a mostly partisan and weakly supported notion of individual rights.

The truth is, this is not an academic proposition to be debated at the level of philosophical nuance. It’s a public health and safety issue, and government’s responsibility and authority in that context is well established.

The federal government has vast power to impose workplace safety rules. It has had that power since 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law.

The government requires hard hats and steel-toed boots in some workplaces, and the law generally mandates employers take steps to ensure a workplace free of obvious hazards likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.

No government at any level has authority to forbid any of that, however.

Meanwhile, people have all sorts of theoretical rights. A person has a right to have his skull drilled, tapped and fitted with titanium horns. He might not be able to also hold a job that requires a hardhat, however.

Biden’s order will burden some employers, as does the whole cosmos of workplace safety rules. It also will provide some with political cover to do what they wanted to in the first place.

Taking the political heat for unpopular decisions is among the things governments do.

It’s the same reason they pass laws forbidding tobacco smoking in bars and restaurants.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;​.


Recommended for you

(17) comments

Ed Buckner

Gosh, I wish Michael A. Smith wouldn't go around giving people ideas. There's just no telling whether or not an avid Smith follower somewhere in Galveston will now seek to have his "skull drilled, tapped and fitted with titanium horns."

Seriously, an apt and well done column (although the copy editor should've caught "angels" instead of "angles").

Thanks for a thoughtful analysis, Mr. Editor.

michaelsmith Staff
Michael A. Smith

Thank you for the comment. The copy editors are blameless this time, however. I meant "angels," as in guardian angels, not angles.

Ed Buckner

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

David Hardee

"In nomine Patris et fillii et Spiritus Sancti" - "Dimittuntur tibi a deo"

Now, recite the Act of Contrition - "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen."

Ed Buckner

As you already know, Mr. Hardee, no Gods for me. I accept that I erred and I know just enough Latin/Catholic lingo to get me in trouble. But no Gods need apply.

David Hardee

Meant the suggestion as good for the soul.

This question is not rhetorical or intended as caustic or insult - Do atheist believe in a soul or any everlasting after death entity?

Ed Buckner

I cannot/will not speak for all atheists everywhere (though I've been asked to before--see below), but this atheist does not think there is any good reason to believe there are any supernatural entities, any souls, life after death, heaven, etc. If praying accomplishes anything, IMNHO, it is only psychological for the prayer offeror. I was asked, years ago, to write an entry for a guide to world religions. I did, but the book was never published. My entry (the organization I led capitalized "Atheist," so I did in this essay, though I think that's silly):

Adherent Essay

1500 words

The Adherent Essay (AE) is written by a person who belongs to the religion in question. He or she writes primarily about the relationship between his or her religion and Christianity.

The essay should have both personal and scholarly elements. The personal elements should include self disclosure and should answer questions such as who the writer is, how long he or she has been a member of the religion, any specific professional or ecclesiological roles one plays in the religion, and perhaps a brief characterization of what it is like to belong to this religious tradition. One might even include a brief testimony of what this religion has meant in the author's life. Although the answers to all these questions are certainly in the personal realm, one should expect that as to matters of fact about the religion mentioned in these personal disclosures, one can count on scholarly accuracy, even a certain amount of objectivity.

After the personal elements are taken care of, the essay should focus on the relationship of the religion in question with mainstream Christianity. First, what is the official relationship of this religious tradition with Christianity? Does the religion in its "official" form see itself as a competitor with Christianity? Or does it see itself as simply a different religious option? Or does it see itself as a form of Christianity? Historically, has the relationship with Christianity been peaceful or antagonistic?

The essay should then shift back to the personal, in the form of comments on what the author sees/feels as the nature of the relationship between his or her religion and Christianity? Is it easy, for example, to be a Muslim today in its relationship with Christianity? What are the difficulties for individual Muslims vis a vis Christianity? What are the positive elements of this relationship? What are the negatives.

Finally, in the author's opinion, what are the key issues between the two religions that must be dealt with today? What are the most important points of relationship their either hold great promise or great peril?

--Terry C. Muck

Editor, The Christian Handbook of Religions

Atheism (1571 words)

Ed Buckner, President, American Atheists

As my good friend the late Clark Adams often noted, “If Atheism is a religion, then health is a disease.” As Clark’s wording and other, similar formulations (“If Atheism is a religion, baldness is a hair color,” or “If Atheism is a religion, not collecting stamps is a hobby”) make clear, we Atheists do not accept the frequent assertions by some theists that we, too, follow a religion—or that it takes faith to be an Atheist. Quotes like these also hint at the sometimes tendentious and antagonistic relationship between Christianity and Atheism, with all sides often refusing to accept assumptions deemed crucial by the others. A key starting point that Atheists usually make but that Christians seem usually to reject relates to requiring evidence in proportion to beliefs, as David Hume (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748) suggested.

I agree with the analysis offered by philosopher Keith Parsons: “Generations of Christian apologists have assumed that fruitful communication is possible. They have assumed that enough common ground exists for reasonable debate between belief and nonbelief. I share that assumption. That is, I think that believers and nonbelievers share enough background beliefs, values, and standards to engage in fruitful debate about the reasonableness of Christian claims (though some of the wilder effusions of creationists and fundamentalists tempt me into doubt).” (Why I Am Not a Christian, Freethought Press, 2000, p.1).

Given that Atheism, defined essentially as an absence of supernatural beliefs, is not a religion, nor even according to most Atheists a coherent philosophy, this essay will necessarily be unlike others in this handbook. I can quite literally write only of my own personal viewpoint, despite being the leader of a national group of like-minded people, because we are so far from being politically or philosophically monolithic. What I write about here can fairly be said to be a roughly typical set of experiences and ideas, but it cannot be said to be definitive.

Demographics (culture, geography, etc.) predict religious belief far better than theology, and this suggests that most people’s religious beliefs are not their carefully considered opinions—they just inherit them. I was born into Christianity (my father was a low-church Episcopal clergyman; my mother was in some ways more committed to Christianity than my father) and left it only gradually, not in a sudden burst of not-seeing-the-light and not out of childish rebelliousness against my parents or against a god in whom I disbelieve. I do not see my lack of faith over the last forty plus years as a loss, but rather as a valuable gain. That gain was the result of numerous conversations, some casual, some intense, with believers and Atheists; of an anthropology course in comparative religion; and of much reading, from C. S. Lewis to Bertrand Russell. I have been active in many different local, regional, and national freethought, secular humanist, and Atheist groups, and I have debated dozens of theists, most of them Christians (and all but one of the Christians a Protestant of one variety or another). I personally enjoy debate and think it has at least modest potential for education.

Atheism and Christianity are, with those rare exceptions based on unusual definitions, quite incompatible. When Richard Dawkins wrote a book titled The God Delusion (2006), it is almost certain that most (not all?) Christians not only disagreed with Dawkins but found the book and its title offensive, while most (not all) Atheists were exhilarated by the title and pleased by the arguments. Atheists are not persuaded by Christian (or other theistic) arguments and apologetics for many reasons, but the main reason for most of us is that the declared connections between the alleged divine and the actual universe simply do not match. The inadequacies of theodicies—elaborate philosophical justifications that purport to explain away the “problem of suffering (or ‘of evil’)” in a universe designed and controlled by an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful being—are a big part of the problem, but not all of it. For those Christians who suggest that faith is the answer, it must be asked, “Why?,” as well as, “Faith in what?” The answer most often reduces to having faith in what another human claims is what a god wants.

Atheism matters to me because I am convinced that only by being realistic and reasonable about human problems and needs can we hope to make human progress. And believing that there is a power above and beyond human beings that designed or cares about human affairs undermines human social development (or worse), as both human history and basic logic demonstrate. I do not think my life or humanity in general ultimately matters—I find no reason to believe there is any externally created purpose or meaning available. Yet I find considerable joy and satisfaction in life, treasure my friends and family, enjoy contemplating beauty, stand in awe of the natural universe, and share pretty much the whole range of human emotions with my fellow human beings. The myth of Atheists as cold, unhappy, rationally calculating Mr. Spocks is, so far as my experience demonstrates, only a stereotype. The same can be said, emphatically, for the big lie that Atheists lack moral standards or integrity. Like most Atheists I know—and I know thousands, many of them reasonably well—I think that value, morality, beauty, and meaning are all human developments but are not the less important for that.

What does an Atheist value? The reputation for decency and integrity of every individual Atheist, mostly his own to protect, is somewhat affected by that of Atheist organizations. It is not nearly as simple for us in some ways as for a dogmatic Christian organization. I can assert no right to speak for, much less to direct, all Atheists; the moral code and political philosophy of every Atheist is his or hers, not any organization’s. No Atheist worthy of the name would ever allow some pompous authority figure to make important moral or political decisions on his behalf, and we proudly disagree with one another on the death penalty, gun control, abortion, tax policies, and virtually every other issue of the day (a strict separation of government and religion comes the closest to achieving unanimity among us). But, powerless as I am to issue decrees, I can comment nevertheless on key values or goals that I think most Atheists are resolved to follow, based on principles that all Atheists I know consider worthy:

• Honor commitments, be honorable—it is not always easy to do what you promise to do, and there are times when commitments must be changed. But those should be rare and, when they do occur, such changes should be made openly and with justification. Atheists want to be taken seriously, and we will be if we do what we say we will. Contracts matter in the eyes of the law, but contracts and other commitments matter even more in the court of public opinion.

• Enjoy life—because Atheists have an undeserved reputation for being unhappy or bitter, we should be eager to relish the joys that come our way openly. We have learned, sometimes the hard way, that life without an imaginary supreme being ordering us around, forgiving our sins, and supposedly dictating our morality is rich and fulfilling. We must cope with death and illness and great pain at times, and with stress and difficulty always, but we must not forget to recognize the joys of life as well.

• Be gracious—one of the steadiest pleasures of life, unrelated to religiosity or the lack of it, is to attend to the feelings and personalities of our fellow human beings.

• Be a good friend, parent, spouse, lover, boss, assistant, etc. Loyalty and support for those we love or work with must have some limits sometimes, but we have richer lives if we err on the side of acceptance, supporting one another even with insufficient grounds.

• Have an ethical code, be open about it, follow it, and return to it when you slip.

The biggest lie ever told about Atheists, the one most flagrantly and even viciously repeated about us, is that Atheists are not, cannot be, moral, ethical people. This is a grave insult not merely to Atheists but to human beings of all sorts: to claim that decency is impossible without fear of divine punishment is as absurd as to claim that human beings will always treat each well whether anyone pays attention to ethical standards or not. We are highly developed animals, but we are capable of immense cruelty as well as of astonishing sacrifice and of kindness.

Atheists and Christians can certainly live in the same society and can respect and tolerate each other, can even fight for the religious liberty of the other. But many of us—many Atheists and probably an even a higher proportion of Christians—are so fully identified with our position on theism that trusting or being at ease with our opposite numbers is difficult. It is, as I discovered when trying to calmly discuss the evidence and arguments with my mother many years ago, not a mere rational or intellectual disagreement. Emotions and self-perceptions are heavily involved. I am not especially optimistic about the relations between Atheists and Christians, but I know of some Christians who allow me to think that my pessimism may be misplaced.

David Hardee

Thanks Ed. Read and have little there to dispute, intellectually.

Replace the word Atheist with Christian in "Like most Atheists I know—and I know thousands, many of them reasonably well—I think that value, morality, beauty, and meaning are all human developments but are not the less important for that."

and nothing seems controversial.

Where the "value, morality, beauty, and meaning are all human developments but are not the less important for that." are GOTTEN is the cognitive process of the human and results in a self (psyche). It is arguable that no one can alone create there self (psyche). Therefore the experienced events and cognitive process is the growth of self. I concluded that the indoctrination of religion base on the life of Christ the man (Jesus), only, is the best tutelage in existence, And that indoctrination (policy, procedure and even pageantry) can overcome any of the humanist ego, attitudes and irrationalities that naturally emanate. Whether Jesus was a God is of no consequence, But without proof certain, believing Jesus was a supernatural as the TRINITY, though illogical does no harm.

Ed Buckner

Your views, Mr. Hardee, appear to be very close to those of Thomas Jefferson in this regard.

David Hardee

Mr. Buckner, I would be elated to be associated with only Jefferson’s pragmatic disposition on all issues But in the current convoluted atmosphere scepticism is the shield from agenda oriented persons. Though I find mostly you are a rational intellect and pragmatic, your advocacy and commitment to promote Atheism is against the majority and relegates you to a minority with the intention to irritate society.

I refer you to your Guest column disguised as a Library article as being from “agenda oriented person” and requiring a sceptic shield to expose a convolution. I just posted my long withheld comment. I withheld because the only interest was Buckner, Bailey and Collins. So I knew my comment would be a wasted effort.

You are my fellow citizen by location in the USA, only, until…….

P,s,, I take a lot of maps - like Einstein - that's our only resemblance.

David Hardee

The article covers well the particulars of the struggles for dominance on the China virus by governments. Yet there is another perspective and ancillary interfaces to be considered,

The significant difference between a binding directive from the order/authority of a Federal bureaucratic department compared to a State's Governor's order is that the State’s is more local and clearly has jurisdiction. Remember that the design of the Constitution is intended to shield citizenry from the usurping power of the feared Federal dictatorship. When and If there is a conflict about which jurisdiction is rightfully, then through litigation the voice of the local citizens is found. Ergo the State and Federal conflict equires litigation at the minimum.

The Osha safety regulation for "hard hats" was not never rose to conflict. And smoking,, a self inflicted harm was litigated severely, no legislation produced federal legislation making a law that made smoking illegal. To create straw calamities that do not exist for the purpose of giving false substance to an argument is shameful. Requiring a citizen to submit their body to an injection, which is still controversial, has no similarity to hard hats and smoking.

Some States (local) have directives, and some have laws, and some private establishments (more local) have either banned or segmented areas for smokers.

The usurping of the right for citizens and States to have prerogatives, is a constant intrusion by the Federal government, most often by the progressive liberals, grabbing for power. If the progressive liberal tentacles are not stopped the oligarchy (swamp) of the bureaucracies will consume our democracy and regurgitate the tyranny the founding fathers feared.

Letting the "local” people manage their proximity society, (body, family, community, city, State) is the true freedom and democratic process designed in our Constitution.

Ed Buckner

April 9, 1865

David Hardee

Hard to discern if this is a quip, or taunt, either way it is pure trite.

Mary Gillespie

I know a young woman who has multiple health problems and nearly died when given the first Covid injection.

Biden did not require that employers offer free, convenient Covid tests in the workplace for people like her. Instead, he would punish her for her health problems by forcing her to spend additional time in medical offices getting tested.

Ed Buckner

Ms. Gillespie, misinformation is a mighty dangerous thing, and knowledge is worth pursuing. Before you declare such things about "a young woman you know," it might be helpful to know what Biden actually ordered. Start here:

David Hardee

Mary, there are to many sorrowful stories similar to what your friend suffered. The ever changing highly politized swill pouring out of the Biden institutions can not be trusted. The Biden's minions re-imagine their positions on the vaccines to fit their agenda of the moment. It is difficult to discern the truth and consequently a nation of sceptics exists. The only sanity and safe harbor is the lucidity of our best efforts and trust our prayers will help deliver a good outcome.

God Bless America

Charles Douglas

Mr. Hardee> Look here my man ...Ahhh "IMMA" give you [thumbup][thumbup] up for this post! Naw! Naw! Make that [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]!!!!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Real Names required. No pseudonyms or partial names allowed. Stand behind what you post.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.