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EXPLAINER: Don’t Count on a Pastor’s Letter to Help You Avoid COVID Vaccine Mandates

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who’s suing a medical school in the state over its vaccine mandate, offers a religious exemption form for citizens attempting to sidestep both mask and vaccine rules. Users can attest that they object to “forcing a face covering on my child, who is created in the image of God.” The form also states, ‘I believe that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that I am called to honor God in how I care for my body.” Landy told his own employees, “I support your religious liberties and right to conscientiously object.”

Religious Opt-Outs Are Disappearing

Arguments about religious exemptions to vaccines aren’t new. The first state to offer a religious opt-out for school vaccine requirements was New York, in 1966. Recently, several states have been attempting to eliminate such exemptions, hoping to avoid or minimize disease outbreaks.

Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor’s National School of Tropical Medicine, explains, “The truth is there is no major religion that prohibits vaccinations. The argument has really very little to do with religion and everything to do with the anti-vaccine, vaccine choice movement.”

Legal experts point to Christian Scientists as one possible group that may qualify for religious exemption; that’s because they believe in prayer instead of medical treatment. Otherwise, say attorneys, if your faith doesn’t prevent you from getting yearly flu shots, then it’s unlikely to help you skirt COVID vaccine mandates.

Raising objections about the possible use of fetal tissue in the development of COVID vaccines also is unlikely to hold up. For Catholics, that’s because Pope Francis not only states that receiving the shot is morally acceptable but also is a moral obligation.

Catholic Archdioceses in several large cities, including Chicago and Philadelphia, advise priests not to offer religious exemption letters. This week, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago told clergy to “politely decline” such requests because they contradict church teaching. “Our moral teaching, while ever respectful of the rights of individuals, always keeps in focus the common good,” he says. “Not doing so distorts Catholic doctrine.”

Liberty Counsel Continues Fight for Religious Exemptions

The nonprofit organization Liberty Counsel, which assists clients in religious liberty cases, urges Americans to “take action against vaccine passports” and COVID-shot mandates. Its website, which contains extensive lists of possible side effects and conspiracy theories, also offers a memo insisting that “COVID vaccines cannot be mandatory under emergency use authorization.”