OLYMPIA (Wash.) – The questions surrounding religious exemptions are pressing for those who do not want to be vaccinated.
But many major organized religions are not opposed to vaccines.
This collision of vaccine mandates, religion, and personal choice could leave it up to individual employers – be they government agencies, hospitals, or private companies – to determine whether a worker’s belief qualifies them to skip a COVID-19 injection.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation stated that those with medical accommodation or “sincere religious belief” can opt out of the vaccine. Thousands of officials hope to make use of this escape clause.
More than 6% of officials have applied for religious exemption, according to the first data released Tuesday. Another 1.5% requested a medical exemption.
Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism do not ban vaccines, according to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Some Christian denominations oppose vaccines, one of the best known being Christian Scientists.
But many religious leaders have actually encouraged their members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Pope Francis urged Catholics to get vaccinated. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement last month urging its members to get immunized.
Christian Scientists often choose not to be vaccinated because many believe that prayer can cure disease. Lance Matteson, spokesperson for the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Washington, wrote in an email that choosing not to be vaccinated is “a conscientious choice to seek … help through spiritual means.”
As the church urges members to make their own choices about immunization, a statement from its board also said it recognizes the importance of cooperating with measures deemed necessary by health officials. public.
“Most importantly, we hope that our collective care and efforts can promote public health and healing for all those affected by disease and contagion around the world,” the statement said.
Matteson said he knew of church members who chose to be vaccinated and others who did not. The church doesn’t want members to feel pressure anyway, he said.
Matteson said the church has always appreciated the availability of religious accommodations from vaccine requirements.
“But this privilege was never intended to pit the conscientious practice of Christian scientists as a religious minority against the well-being of society as a whole,” he wrote.
Getting those who are religious and reluctant to get vaccinated may require the work of religious leaders and groups, a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core showed.
The survey found that American Jews are the most likely to accept the vaccine, with 85% of respondents at the time saying they accepted the vaccines. Hispanic and white Catholics, other non-Christians, other Christians, religious affiliates and mainline white Protestants all had more than 70% of respondents approving the vaccine. White Evangelical Protestants are the least likely to accept the vaccine with 24% saying they would not get the vaccine.
The survey, which reported on the results in March and June, found that faith-based approaches to vaccine reluctance, such as encouraging religious leaders or religious groups to give information, had a significant influence. on increasing vaccine acceptance.
When religious freedom is part of the exemptions, the mandates
As new mandates are released, questions of legality, particularly over the violation of religious freedom, also arise.
Whether cases go to state or federal court, determining the legality of warrants and exemption responses will be based on many factors, said Shaakirrah Sanders, professor of law at the University of Idaho. .
Religious freedom comes from two places in the First Amendment: the establishment clause, which says the government cannot establish a religion or programs that exclude religions, and the exercise clause, which says the government cannot establish a religion or programs that exclude religions, and the exercise clause, which says the government cannot. can do nothing to prevent the free exercise of religion.
Derogations from certain laws on the basis of religion have been established by both statute and United States Supreme Court jurisprudence.
“But you don’t get an exemption in all cases,” Sanders said.
Regarding vaccination warrants, the government can argue that it is not forcing anyone to change their religious beliefs, only forcing them to change their behavior, Sanders said.
For any prosecution arising from these warrants, the court will likely take into account the alternatives to the vaccine offered by the warrant, such as testing, an individual’s consistency on vaccines; whether their specific work can be adapted in any way and the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If a state or federal warrant offers an option of testing instead of receiving the vaccine, for example, a court may decide that it does not violate a person’s religious freedom because there are options, Sanders said.
Vaccination warrants in Washington State do not provide an option of testing in lieu of vaccination. This could be a factor that transforms a particular case, Sanders said.
The court may then need to investigate which industries are subject to the warrant and whether there are other options for a worker to keep their job, such as working from home.
“It is difficult to know for sure how a court will rule,” she said.
Then it can depend on the individual’s own beliefs.
Under current law, people seeking religious exemptions do not need to be part of an organized religion, Sanders said, and they do not have to believe in all the tenets of that religion.
Thus, despite many religious leaders calling on their members to be vaccinated, those who refuse for religious reasons can still do so as long as it is “sincerely held”.
However, anyone who takes a case to court will likely have to prove that they are opposed to all vaccines and not just the COVID-19 vaccine, Sanders said. If they only oppose one, “that might cause them problems.”
Another factor could be the COVID-19 pandemic itself.
In the context of the First Amendment, there is no “emergency exemption,” Sanders said. However, the scope of these freedoms could be hampered, for example by not limiting the number of people allowed in a church at a time due to social distancing.
The state of the economy could also play a role in these decisions, especially if industries are still struggling to recruit workers, Sanders said.
“We saw their inability to have any predictability in the course of a business,” Sanders said. “It’s risky for people who file a claim, and it’s also risky for the government making a settlement.”
One thing that is predictable, however, is the timing of these cases.
Federal and state courts are still backed, Sanders said, and no one knows how long the pandemic will continue. If the pandemic abates by the end of next spring, the courts could find the cases on the warrants moot.