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!
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?