The rise of the Delta variant has led some vaccine-hesitant Americans to finally take the (needle) plunge and get a shot. A few days ago, the country managed to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of the population receive at least one shot. Biden had hoped we’d hit his goal by July 4. We did it a month late – but at least we did it.
That’s no thanks to white Christian nationalists or the politicians who kowtow to them. At a time when we’re seeing a drop in vaccine hesitancy among most faith groups, white evangelicals aren’t budging much. As Religion News Service reported recently, “White evangelical Protestants remain the religious group with the highest percentage of vaccine refusers with 24% (compared to 26% in March).”
Despite being nowhere near a majority, vaccine-denying Christian nationalists have managed to spawn all manner of chaos during the pandemic – remember their super-spreader church events early on? Recall how many of them vowed to never take the shots? Recollect the asinine conspiracy theories they embraced?
But wait, there’s more! Their latest stunt is resisting public school mask mandates and requirements by employers that workers be vaccinated. An Ohio-based Christian nationalist group called Moms for America recently issued a press statement calling on evangelicals to pull their children out of public schools rather than send them there masked.
Meanwhile, Republican governors in two states, Florida and Texas, have issued orders that prohibit public schools from requiring masks. (Isn’t it funny how conservatives extol “local control” – until a locality does something they don’t like?) In Louisiana, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, a close ally of the Religious Right, is undercutting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edward’s effort to reinstate a mask mandate and promote vaccines by urging people to claim religious exemptions.
In places where state officials are behaving more responsibly, Christian nationalists remain hard at work trying to torpedo policies they insist infringe on their religious freedom – even though there is no right under religious freedom to spread sickness or put the lives of others at risk.
All of this is happening even as a consensus is emerging that the only way we’ll defeat the Delta variant is by focusing on the unvaccinated and urging them to get jabs. Even some Republican governors are finally stepping up. Consider Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who recently told reporters, “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. Almost 100 percent of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”
Is it too little too late? Can a voice like Ivey’s compete with the chorus of Christian nationalist death cultists and their political allies who insist that “freedom” means the right to make everyone else miserable?
Stay tuned. This fall will be crucial as schools return to session and more and more employers try to reopen offices.
Sensible people want a return to normal life. We’ll never get there as long as some politicians insist on playing to an unhinged, science-denying base of conspiracy-embracing fundamentalists who believe Tucker Carlson knows more about the pandemic than Dr. Anthony Fauci.