Chicago Tribune: No religious exemptions for vaccines

November 8, 2021 • 12:45 pm

This Chicago Tribune op-ed is unusual in that it proposes an ironclad rule: no religious exemptions from vaccination requirements. I happen to agree with that; my view is that the only exemptions from mandatory vaccination, where it is decreed for health reasons, should be ones for people whose lives or health are endangered by getting the injection. So good for author Steve Chapman!

Click to read. If you’re paywalled, make a judicious inquiry

Now I disagree with Chapman on one point: he thinks that people should be exempted from the Covid vaccination if they provide “persuasive evidence that they are acting on the iron imperatives of faith rather than personal whim.” But he does note that proving such evidence is very dicey, and that “the number of people who could legitimately qualify is too tiny to be worth the bother”. In the main then, we both think that you should not bother. No religious exemptions—only medical ones.

He makes several other points, some of which have been discussed here (I’ve added one or two myself). Direct quotes are in quotes:

1.) “No major faith bars its followers from being immunized against disease. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses, which rejects blood transfusions, and Christian Science, which discourages medical treatment, don’t forbid it.”

2.) “A lot of the holdouts have never claimed religious objections to other vaccines. Most, it’s safe to say, couldn’t articulate any halfway plausible rationale to refuse.”

3.)  All states have mandatory childhood vaccinations—sometimes more than a dozen shots—to attend public school.

4.) Some states do not allow religious exemptions for these childhood vaccinations; they include (this is a comprehensive list) Mississippi, West Virginia, California, Connecticut, Maine, and New York. There should be fifty states on that list.

5.) There is a reason for mandatory vaccination for both children and, for Covid, for adults. This is of course to protect us against a pandemic, and to protect you from infecting others who haven’t gotten the shot or can’t get the shot. In my view, there is no reasonable religious excuse that can override that. To a diehard atheist, saying that “my faith in God prevents me from considering the vaccine” sounds like “my faith in Santa Claus prevents me from considering the vaccine”.

6.) There is no stipulation in federal law that you are allowed to get an exemption because of religion. As Chapman notes:

“In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom doesn’t mean believers are exempt from laws that apply to everyone else.

To rule otherwise, the court said, would lead to ‘religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind — ranging from compulsory military service to the payment of taxes’ and, yes, ‘compulsory vaccination laws.’ The author of the court’s majority opinion? Conservative hero Antonin Scalia.”

Privileging faith over the common good doesn’t make sense. Matthew 22:21 says “”Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. The public well-being is Caesar’s. The idea that a delusion should make you exempt from things required by others does of course have purchase in other areas, for the U.S. is hyperreligious. But we have to think about how far we want to privilege faith while still allowing freedom of worship. We don’t allow people to beat up others because their faith decrees it. Why should we allow people to endanger others because their faith decrees it?

32 thoughts on “Chicago Tribune: No religious exemptions for vaccines

  1. But we have to think about how far we want to privilege faith while still allowing freedom of worship.

    How about we privilege faith not at all? There’s no reason why religious people should have extra consideration that the non-religious don’t get.

    1. … well, not until the thunderbolts start scoring direct hits on the more vocal people of the wrong religion (which includes no religion). Electrically incinerating people inside well-grounded steel-framed buildings would be doubleplusgood.

    2. Here in the US, the constitution’s First Amendment has a Free Exercise clause pertaining to religion. It’s long been held to permit special accommodations for religious practices. It’s why Christmas is a federal holiday and why Jews and Seventh Day Adventists can’t be denied unemployment compensation if they’re fired for refusing to work on Saturdays.

      Like it or not, that clause is in the US Bill of Rights. With the current conservative, pro-religion majority on the US Supreme Court, those types of accommodations are likely to multiply over the coming years.

      1. True, but as you’ll be aware, it’s not that simple, given Scalia’s Smith ruling that:

        “Although a State would be “prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]” in violation of the Clause if it sought to ban the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts solely because of their religious motivation, the Clause does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a law that incidentally forbids (or requires) the performance of an act that his religious belief requires (or forbids) if the law is not specifically directed to religious practice and is otherwise constitutional as applied to those who engage in the specified act for nonreligious reasons.”

  2. I think the 1st amendment freedom of religion only means to protect your right to practice your religion without government interference. If that religion steps on federal law then it must yield to the law. Our Supreme Catholics, I mean court, does not always understand that easy to understand idea. Thus we have stupid decisions such as Hobby Lobby or Federal money to religious schools. This should never happen. Mandatory vaccines should mean mandatory. The idea that some military members could claim religious reasons to avoid the vaccination makes no sense. They would not be in the military if they refused shots. They would never had made it through basic training. What is the difference between this vaccine and the 25 or so you already got.

  3. “The idea that a delusion should make you exempt from things required by others does of course have purchase in other areas,” It sure does, and not only on the righthand end of the spectrum. The delusion that one could be “born in the wrong body” is claimed for a variety of exemptions and privileges. Then there is the delusion that students claiming to be “Progressive” are exempt from rules against disrupting
    classes or public lectures. And of course, from MIT down to Podunk U. administrations harbor the delusion that this or that speaker , this or that point of view, or even certain single magic words,will make students “unsafe”.

  4. I supposed Aaron Rodgers will accuse the Tribune of being part of the “woke mob” that attacked him. Of course, there’s nothing at all woke about vaccine mandates and prohibiting nonsense religious objections.

    I think that the term “woke” is now just being applied to everything that Anti vax kooks don’t like.

  5. I don’t even know what a religious exemption is based on. Is it “my body is a holy temple created by g*d and I shall not pollute it?” Or “Getting a vaccine is not allowing fate (i.e. g*d’s plan) to unfold.” And according to the 1st point cited above, there is no major faith that bans vaccinations. So what gives? No, deluded ones, I do not buy your religious excuses.

  6. I consider this a political and not a health topic at this point. Biden said that the new mandate won’t be enforced for truckers. That’s not a safety thing, that’s a political thing. Biden has chosen to leave the southern border open and unvaccinated. Congress is not affected by the mandates. There are so many holes in this (including the fact that the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission) that the whole thing is ridiculous.

    1. Yeah, that’s why we have so much polio and smallpox here too. Stop getting your health and medical advice from Joe Rogan.

    2. Truckers spend most of their time alone, so it is unlike many other occupations. I’m guessing that there’s also a judgement about the driver shortage, too so there’s also a pragmatic attempt to balance the risks involved.

      1. Truckers spend most of their time alone,

        When was the last time you took a meal break, shower or “restroom break” at a truck stop? They mix. Quite a lot.
        An exemption for truckers is quite simply insane.

        1. Truckers have groupies, known as diesel sniffers. No, I had no idea either, until I heard a musician from a folk-rock band mention it. They have a concept album on the topic.

        2. I didn’t envisage so many truckers mixing in showers and bathroom stalls together… A meal break is still less time than sharing an office all day, and yes the decision to exempt truckers is likely down to expediency rather than principles.

      2. Truckers spending most of their time alone is the same as the Nostromo keeping the airlock shut most of the time.
        Truckers also travel pretty much constantly, including stops in areas where infection levels vary widely.
        A truck stop would be a good place to start a “12 Monkeys” style pandemic.

    3. It is not a settled fact that the Covid vaccines do not prevent transmission. First, if you are vaccinated, you are much less likely to catch it in the first place. If you don’t get infected, you can’t transmit it. And it is not yet proven that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections are just as likely to transmit as unvaccinated people with “wild” infections. Obviously they can transmit and caution is appropriate. But the bald statement that vaccines “don’t prevent transmission” (with the implied, “at all”) cannot be regarded as fact at the current state of knowledge.

      It’s not going to be easy to settle this question.
      You can’t study it experimentally by instructing vaccinated people with breakthrough infections to try to spread it to their contacts deliberately, and then measure how successful they are, compared to unvaccinated people with infections instructed to do the same The evidence is going to be observational, instead, accumulating over months and will be subject to arguments about validity that always pop up when you have no control group or cannot randomly assign subjects to the control group. As people move indoors we will see a signal emerging. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra begins its concert season this week. The vaccinated audience will be at modestly reduced capacity and masked but seating will not be distanced. What we are observing here is a whole suite of defensive measures and not vaccination in isolation. That’s real life.

      Yes, we are crossing our fingers. I’ll let you know how we do. We’re hearing Timothy Chooi play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on the 25th, barring a public health meltdown.

  7. This is of course to protect us against a pandemic, and to protect you from infecting others who haven’t gotten the shot or can’t get the shot. In my view, there is no reasonable religious excuse that can override that.

    Surely the long-standing religious excuse of “I was killing the infidel” applies? God (or more specifically, her priests on Earth) has always allowed special exceptions for killing the infidel.
    If there was one church in the afflicted population that had more then 50% of the population as adherents, then “killing the infidel” might run into problems, but with dozens if not hundreds of schisms and distinct churches, that’s not really a problem – randomly killing people is almost always going to kill more of “the infidel” then “the chosen few”. Since there are only meant to be 100,000 or so “saved”, then the odds of getting an “unsaved” are about 3000 to 1. (For America, and standard “Left Behind” mythology. Also, “infidel” defined as “following a different priest”, which is much more important – and testable – than “following a different god”.)

  8. As if it matters, the Bible advises mask wearing. This one is about leprosy, but whatev.

    ““Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!” Leviticus, 13:45.

  9. “. . .my view is that the only exemptions from mandatory vaccination, where it is decreed for health reasons, should be ones for people whose lives or health are endangered by getting the injection.”

    It would seem to me that the only exemptions from mandatory vaccination, where it is decreed for health reasons, should be ones for people who are willing to accept the consequences of not complying with the mandate. I agree that religion should have nothing to do with their motive for not complying.

    We tend to think of mandates as being forced to do something, but in fact almost all mandates amount to being given a choice: you can either do this or do that. E.g. you can either get vaccinated or not work here; you can either have your children vaccinated or not send them to this school, etc. etc. As long as you’re willing to accept the consequences of your choice, you’re not being forced to do anything.

    So the question is, at what point is the alternative to compliance so unreasonable as to make the mandate a violation of individual rights? Certainly one example that comes to mind would be to mandate vaccinations as a condition of voting. In principle, I’d say that any mandate that doesn’t allow for reasonable non-compliance is a bad mandate and probably unconstitutional, but I don’t pretend to know how we go about determining what’s “reasonable.” Where do we draw the line?

    1. “As long as you’re willing to accept the consequences of your choice, you’re not being forced to do anything.”

      Except that we are living in unusual times. Sure, some people are concerned with public health concerns. But others are just enjoying the fact that they have an excuse to torment others.

      Also, in an ideal world, the people selling the vaccines, the folks at FDA making the approval decisions, and those imposing the mandates would be different and distinct groups of people. They are not a single set, but the Venn diagram overlaps quite a bit. So when they put on their white coats and issue edicts, you cannot tell if you are getting good health advice from a group of caring doctors, or a sales pitch from Pfizer, turned into law.

      On an unrelated note, the costs of the basic things needed for large scale agricultural production have mostly doubled. As those prices continue to rise, agricultural wholesale products, and the consumer level goods cost are going to go way up. I run the bale operation.and next fall our wholesale sales will probably have the bale price at least doubled. Fertilizer cost is just insane.
      Since ag products are an important part of everyone’s lives, this is important to everyone.
      For a long time, Americans have spent 7% to 9% of their income on food at home and restaurants. That was the lowest number for any country at any time, and is changing quickly.
      I suggest stocking up on non-perishable foods. We just bought 200 pounds of rice. That is a year for us, although we normally buy one bag at a time, when needed. FYI

  10. Where the line is drawn is the practice of politics. What do we need to do? What can we get away with? If the second is less than the first, what do we do about it?

    There are no “inalienable” individual rights in a war on your own soil, or in a really bad pandemic where much of your workforce is dead or incapacitated. In those emergencies, the state does whatever it must to survive, and whatever it “can” do within its ability to stop the populace throwing paving stones at the palace.

    So it is entirely “reasonable” (from the point of view of the state) to prohibit people who are unvaccinated to be out and about at all, were the situation more dire than what we have ever faced with Covid. (Remember in the early phases, you were allowed out of your house only for essential purposes as it was.) Worrying about the constitutionality of a bar to voting would be seen as quaint. We’d be talking about barring the unvaccinated from grocery stores, as Noam Chomsky has proposed in current circumstances. All the unvaccinated have to do is roll up their sleeves.

    I’m not “calling for” anything myself. I think the disease will gradually muddle and sputter into endemicity where it’s one more thing that poor people get sick from, just as HIV and TB and so many others are. The new antiviral pills may allow us to relax some. But in defending the right it claims to exist as a state, there is no predefined limit on what the state would do.

  11. There may come a time when some entity with power will mandate something that you oppose but for reasons of a civilised existence you may act as the mandate requires. That is the uncomfortable precedent mandates demand given they are political ideas without constitutional, legal or parliamentary prescription. Mandates are usually developed by politicians in political forums rather than by technocrats, so the idea usually comes before the science is compelling, not that technocrats are not mostly political first.

  12. The vaccine mandate in Ontario is the product of a constitutionally elected government authorized by Emergency Powers legislation to implement scientifically grounded public health measures in a pandemic. This covers the mandate’s “prescription”. The only political dimension here is making policy that will fly with the voters at election time. (The civil service’s technocrats including senior public health officials are permanent career appointments; none serve at the pleasure of the Premier.) The vaccine policy idea came to fruition 8 months after the science was compelling. All government policies necessarily have a political dimension but this reality does not rob them of legitimacy.

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