Anti-vaxxers trying to hurt Biden in the short term — and they have a nefarious long-term goal​​
Anti-vaccination protest (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)

Vaccine mandates have been around as long as the United States, and resisters have been around for about as long.

Resisters are hardly a monolithic group, and their differences are informed by cultural, political and religious perspectives, but the coronavirus pandemic has forged temporary alliances between those various factions to achieve short-term partisan goals and long-term exemptions, according to CNN contributor Nicole Hemmer.

"Over the past few decades, the right has increasingly funneled policy resistance through the framework of religious exemptions: opposition to marriage equality, to trans rights, to reproductive health care under the Affordable Care Act," writes Hemmer, an associate research scholar at Columbia University. "The Supreme Court broadened the scope of religious exemptions available to for-profit companies in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014, ruling that the craft store chain had a sincerely held religious belief that would be unduly burdened by offering contraceptive coverage as part of its employee health insurance benefits. That victory underscored for conservatives that religious exemptions could be a powerful way to undercut policies they opposed."

The right, however, is hoping to leverage the small but very vocal opposition to vaccine mandates to get what they want in electoral politics and in the broader culture war.

"It is little wonder then that some right-wing vaccine resisters would now turn to religious exemption as a way around vaccine mandates, even though the Supreme Court has previously ruled that religious belief does not automatically exempt people from following laws like vaccine requirements," Hemmer writes. "The effort is in part aimed at getting the court to rethink its stance on the balance between public health and religious belief (something the Supreme Court, which earlier this year overturned New York's pandemic restrictions on indoor religious ceremonies, has shown that it is open to doing)."

"But it also is part of a much broader effort to, in the short term, scotch the Biden administration's attempts to bring the pandemic under control and, in the long term, make religious exemptions a primary, powerful tool for undermining as many liberal policies as possible," she adds.