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I’m all for freedom. I eat where I want to eat (The Top Steakhouse the other night with the love of my life, for example,) I pretty much write what I want to write, I travel wherever I want to, I have the discretion to take on only certain auction clients, and otherwise consider my freedom to be reasonably widespread and unencumbered here in the United States.

But I don’t have the “freedom” as an auctioneer to injure (or kill) others with my behavior. For example, if I had smallpox (killing between 300 and 500 million people worldwide, during the 20th century) it would be imprudent to meet with a client or anyone else on the likelihood I’m contagious and my client becomes infected and dies.

As we’ve previously noted, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) that a state could mandate a smallpox vaccine or otherwise impose a fine ($5.00.) In that ruling, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote:

Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.

Justice John Marshall Harlan

You too have the right to freedom — even medical freedom — if such only affects you. However, if your medical freedom infringes on my rights, that so-called freedom doesn’t exist. If it did, then I would have the freedom to infringe on your freedoms, correct?

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is contagious. You could have it and not know it. Yet, you’re unvaccinated and having auctions, meeting with clients, and customers? Worse yet, are you unvaccinated while telling people you are vaccinated? Maybe I can tell you I’ve had the smallpox vaccine, shake your hand, only for you to realize I haven’t? That would be okay, right?

Relatedly, many auctioneers fly to events on commercial carriers. Do you expect to be infected by smallpox by the pilot, flight attendants, or crew? Wouldn’t you expect them to be vaccinated so they don’t infect you? Oh, that’s right, I almost forgot, they have the medical freedom to take (or not take) any vaccine they choose even if it endangers you?

Here’s my suggestion for auctioneers:

  • If you’re unvaccinated, inform any clients and bidders/buyers before interacting with them. They may want to meet but with masks and/or social distancing, or possibly delay the appointment until later.
  • Keep in mind that even if you are vaccinated and even if they are vaccinated, you can still carry the virus and they can still catch it. The vaccine isn’t to prevent infection and rather to lessen the symptoms and heighten recovery.

I keep hearing our bidders (and possibly some sellers) are aging, and if they are, aren’t they the most susceptible to the dangers of the virus? Would it be prudent to behave in a way they are comfortable working with you, instead of forcing them to be subject to your “medical freedom?”

Your so-called medical freedom is not really that complex. You have the freedom to control your own health, so long as those decisions don’t potentially impact the health of others. Quite frankly, I don’t care if you’re vaccinated or not as long as you aren’t affecting others’ health and well-being. Yet, as an auctioneer, that’s difficult to properly manage given the nature of our business.

We’ve written about this issue numerous times, including here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2021/09/15/auctioneers-freedom-and-liberty/. It all started most recently with auctioneers defying government orders (with some getting arrested, fined, and also sued) in early 2020: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2020/03/19/so-youre-still-having-live-auctions-despite-a-pandemic/.

Please exercise all the freedoms that solely affect you. However, be very careful when you are exercising your freedoms that can affect others’ freedoms. There’s a phrase (A command based on words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?) many apparently have forgotten: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and not “Do whatever you want, others be damned.”

Is there any welcome news here? There is as of this date almost 57% of the population in this country are fully vaccinated, while nearly 66% have had at least one vaccine. A majority of your fellow citizens are vaccinated against COVID-19 — and even some of your fellow auctioneers have been vaccinated.

As well, a study published yesterday gathering data from 18 states indicates for unvaccinated people there is a 6.1x greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and an 11.3x greater risk of dying from COVID-19 — and again it’s your choice if you like those odds to remain unvaccinated — but you have no “right” to force others to subject themselves to those same avoidable risks.

Lastly, for those thinking none of your “freedoms” can be infringed — you are woefully mistaken. Your right to free speech? Your right to keep and bear a firearm? Your right to peaceably assemble? Your right to … virtually anything can and is [rightly] infringed by the government for the protection of the greater good.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.