The Declaration of Independence Center for the Study of American Freedom hosted their first event of the year. The DOIC hosted Aaron Rice, the director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, in a conversation about the constitutionality of vaccine mandates.
Due to the widespread national impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the contention surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine mandates, the constitutionality of vaccine mandates provided the perfect basis onto which the university community could hear a dialogue on state and federal powers with respect to their freedoms.
“We’re not asking whether vaccines are good or bad, or even whether vaccines should be required or not required,” DOIC Director Steven Skultety said as he introduced Rice. “Today’s discussion deals with who gets to make that decision. In particular, we’re asking whether this kind of action — this particular exercise of power is granted to the federal government in our Constitution.”
Rice is a veteran of the Iraq War and a Purple Heart recipient, as well as an alumnus of the University of Mississippi School of Law. The Mississippi Justice Institute defends Mississippians whose state or federal rights have been threatened by government actions. He has served as the institute’s director since 2018.
“You know, Steven asked the question, ‘can the federal government or is it constitutional for the federal government to have a vaccine mandate?’ And the answer to that is no, that’s my answer to that,” Rice said. “And, you know, we don’t really know a lot about vaccine mandates when it comes to Supreme Court law. And so I’ll start with what we do know, for everybody.”
Rice delivered further comment on the constitutionality of vaccine mandates, and more nuanced conversations developed as attendees asked questions and offered perspectives of their own. Due to this success, Skultety plans on hosting more events like this in the future now that the DOIC is off the ground.
“Now that the Center has been officially announced, I am in the process of inviting speakers, organizing a reading group for students, faculty and community members, and recruiting student interns to help the center with its mission,” he said.
Skultety assumed the position of director this summer and since then has been taking strides to fulfil his responsibilities and duties, even as the center is in its early days.
“My core responsibility is to make sure that University of Mississippi students and faculty have an opportunity to explore the nature of freedom in America, as well as the sorts of constitutions, laws, policies and norms that support or hinder freedom,” he said. “My job is to create tangible opportunities for everyone at the University of Mississippi to enter into these debates and explore these issues.”
Though Skultety has long term goals for the center, like offering classes and academic opportunities, he is focused on covering the basics this first year, creating the program’s foundation.
“This first year, there are a number of basics that I will need to tackle: securing an office, developing social media and building relations with other organizations, just to name a few,” he said. “In the next two or three years, my goal is to build a Center that offers classes and other academic opportunities for students and community members interested in studying American freedom in a rigorous way.”
The DOIC, through discussion based events like this one, seeks to foster dialogue about freedom in America and about how the constitution fits into our lives in America.
“Why do we bother with a constitution? I mean, what’s the point? What’s the purpose of living under a constitution instead of simply being ruled by government,” Skultety asked as he opened the event. “The basic answer to that question is that while we might disagree with this decision…a Constitution gives us some assurance that the kinds of things that government is doing, that is the powers the government is exercising, are the ones that we expect and accept.”