Thistlethwaite: Religious exemptions from vaccination policy or belief?

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No major religion has spoken out against the COVID-19 vaccination as against their beliefs.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists have issued statements saying their religion does not prohibit members from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, there are only five, all Christian sects, that have opposed vaccines: the Dutch Reformed Church, the Church of the Firstborn, the Faith Assembly and the ministries of the end.

The The Pope said getting the vaccine was “an act of love”.



Yet “religious exemptions” are now widely sought after as a way to avoid vaccination warrants. In Washington, DC, about 1,500 city health workers are seeking exemptions for religious reasons. More than 2,000 Los Angeles Police Department employees file a complaint to oppose mandatory vaccination for religious or medical reasons.

“Sincere religious beliefs” are protected by law, but the profession of belief can be undermined in credibility if the behavior of one who professes religious beliefs exhibits behavior which is “manifestly incompatible with the professed belief” or if an accommodation is sought for “secular reasons”, that is to say political.



Today there is a strong will to use religion and religious freedom as a means to overturn civil rights laws, a topic that I and others touched on at a Vail symposium during a debate on August 13, 2019. I don’t believe that religious belief gives you the right to deny rights to other people.

Moreover, your “religious belief” cannot be just what you have under your hat at any given time, and it cannot simply be a code indicating “how I can advance my political convictions”.

Of course, it can be difficult for employers to separate a “sincere religious belief” from a political conviction. Many employees say they are calling for religious exemptions because they believe the fetal cells were used in research, testing, or production. But, the consistency of this belief can be tested in a very practical way.

The vaccines themselves do not contain any fetal cells. Fetal cell lines developed years ago have been used in vaccine research and development, but the vaccines themselves do not contain any fetal cells. The Vatican said it was “morally acceptable” to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, even if research or production of the vaccine involved the use of cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, given the “grave danger” of the pandemic.

Employers can reasonably seek consistency in seeing whether it is religious belief and not politics that motivates the exemption request. In Conway, Ark., Matt Troup, CEO of Conway Regional Health System, received requests for religious exemptions based on employees’ belief that vaccines that used fetal cells in research, testing, or production do not should not be put into their body.

“Before granting religious exemptions, Troup sent employees a list of 28 commonly used drugs that also used fetal cells in their research, testing or development – a list that includes Tylenol, Motrin, Tums, Ex-Lax, and other medicine cabinet staples. He asked employees to certify that they were not using any of these drugs.

This current tendency to use “religious exemption” as a means of avoiding vaccination warrants may therefore be exposed as being motivated more by political than religious beliefs if the person requesting the exemption has not systematically avoided all drugs. derived from these cell lines.

I have been a pastor and a religion teacher all of my adult life, and there is literally no way to hold people accountable for the sincerity of their religious beliefs in an abstract way. Human spiritual life is very complex.

However, someone who “suddenly acquires religion” in order to avoid a vaccination warrant would make me wonder how sincere these beliefs are.

Consistency of practice, especially in the use of other drugs, can be an objective guide and this is what employers need.

For me as a person of faith, however, the guiding religious principle for COVID vaccination is “love of neighbor” (Mark 12:31).

We do not get vaccinated just for ourselves, but for the sake of the neighbor who we could also infect. It is the love of God in action.


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