News & Politics

Religious Exemption From Vaccine Mandate Under Threat

(L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

There’s a legal threshold that religious people must achieve in order to be exempted from a vaccine, or any other mandate by the government. It’s the “sincerely held belief” threshold and government and public health officials are preparing to challenge that by basically saying that those people who invoke the “sincerely held belief” standard are lying.

Others believe that there is danger in stretching the meaning of a religious exemption by not questioning those who seek to use it.

Admittedly, the standard is vague. But in addition to a reasonable definition of “sincerely held,” most supporters of the exemption think that abusing the standard to make a political anti-vax statement would be unethical and immoral.

NBC News:

Thomas Berg, a self-described “strong supporter of religious exemptions” and a religious liberty advocate who teaches law at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, said he believes that there is a strong case to deny many of the religious claims and to test religious sincerity.

“In cases where you’ve got a lot of potential insincere claims — and I think there’s evidence that is what’s happening here in which people are raising religious objections when they’re motivated by fear of the vaccine or political opposition to it — testing sincerity makes sense,” he said. “We have to test sincerity or else we have to accept them all or deny them all, so I think the courts will provide room for testing that.”

We know that none of our rights are absolute, that there are limits to even our most sacred rights. But who gets to create the religious exemption “test”? It should be a matter of grave concern because no major religion has a moral objection to vaccines and some religious leaders, including Pope Francis, say a vaccine is “the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.”

But for some pro-life advocates, it’s also about how the vaccines were reportedly manufactured and tested.

The Christian argument for religious exemptions follows two tracks typically: first, that the vaccine shots at some point in their production used aborted fetal cell lines. The second argument cites a Bible verse that claims that the human body is God’s temple of the Holy Spirit and argues that for that reason receiving the vaccine would be a sin.

Johnson & Johnson did use a replicated fetal cell line in the production of its vaccine, but Pfizer and Moderna did not. They did, however, use replicated fetal cell lines to test the effectiveness of their vaccine. Those cell lines, however, were isolated from two fetuses in 1973 and 1985 and then replicated numerous times over the ensuing decades. They are commonly used in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to test and create medications.

The fetal cell argument is categorically rejected by some. “There’s a lot more drugs, vaccines and medicines you should not be taking and protesting if you’re really worried about these fetal cells being used,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University. “I don’t think most of this is sincere. I think it’s just a way to get out of having to take a vaccine.”

Of course, it doesn’t matter what the “ethics” professor “thinks.” What matters is what a defendant can prove. And since the average person has no idea how his drugs, vaccines, or other medicines are manufactured and tested, the notion that vaccine objectors are lying because they don’t object to how their medicines are manufactured and they just want to get out of taking a vaccine is ludicrous.

It’s an uphill battle to win an exemption from a vaccine mandate on all but very narrow medical grounds. But those on the left, who never miss an opportunity to stick it to religious people, would better serve their cause by not fighting the exemptions. The number of people who file will be very small and by not fighting against a religious exemption, the impression is left that the vaccine mandate isn’t really coercive.

Mandates are self-defeating and cause unnecessary division. It would be much more efficacious to simply keep encouraging people to get vaccinated and leave the moral judgments out of it.