Uncommon Sense

July 23, 2021

Are Religious Exceptions to Vaccination Requirements Valid?

According to the LA Times:

“Many universities, including the University of California, are requiring vaccination for all students, staff and faculty returning to campus. Many employers, public and private, are doing so as well. These policies are essential to protect public health. The virulent Delta variant of the Coronavirus has made it imperative to ensure vaccination of as many people as possible.

“Unfortunately, though, many of these policies have an exception for those who have a religious objection to vaccination. These are neither required by the law nor are they desirable as a matter of policy because they make it possible for anyone to circumvent the vaccine mandate.

“The UC’s mandatory vaccination policy, for example, has an exception for those who object on religious grounds. It states that this is because the law requires such an exemption, declaring: “The University is required by law to offer reasonable accommodations to . . . employees who object to vaccination based on their sincerely-held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

“This is simply wrong as a matter of law. No law requires such a religious exemption. In terms of free exercise of religion under the 1st Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled more than 30 years ago in Employment Division vs. Smith that the Constitution does not require exceptions to general laws for religious beliefs. In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court said that as long as a law is neutral, not motivated by a desire to interfere with religion and of general applicability to all individuals, it cannot be challenged based on free exercise of religion. In June, in Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia, the court reaffirmed this legal test.

“Laws that require vaccination are the epitome of a neutral law of general applicability: a requirement that applies to everyone and that was not motivated by a desire to interfere with religion. Even if this were not so, the government can infringe on religious freedom if its action is necessary to achieve a compelling interest.”

Okay, now let us consider the “religious” basis for such objections. Most of the objectors in this country are Christians, so I will comment from that viewpoint.

Do you see anywhere in the New Testament, or even the Old for that matter, where it says “Thou shalt not vaccinate”? or “Thou shalt not take medicine of any kind?” or “Thou shalt not befoul your body, the temple of your soul?” Anything? No? Hmm, interesting.

Religion is the third rail of American politics, not Social Security or any other policy. (For those not getting the reference to a “third rail” it comes from electric trains in which the wheels of the cars travel on the normal two rails but a third rail is added to supply the electric power needed to make the train go. Touching either of the two and the third rail results in a massive amount of electricity coursing through your body and usually death. S)

Religion is such a hot button issue, if someone claims a religious basis for and exception to law or rules, we accept that without comment. We do not require people to fill out a form explaining the source of the objection with appropriate references and citations. Nope, we just accept what is claimed as being valid. (What can you expect from a government that accepted Scientology as a legitimate religion?)

Basically what we have here is people who are saying “Neener, neener, neener, you can’t make me! Uh, ‘cause, ‘cause . . . the Bible says so!”

No, it does not and we have to stop pretending that thousand year old documents, especially those which claim that diseases come from demon possession are fit guides to modern life.

There is a long history of “religious exemption” claims from fundamentalist theists. They opposed smallpox vaccination because it was against God’s will. They have opposed many other medical treatments as being “against God’s will” without showing how the heck they know what God’s will is. And endangering many of the rest of us. I think they are opposing modernity as a whole because they are losing an understanding of how they fit into our culture. Instead if white neighbors being the norm, now they neighbors “of color,” and . . . gasp . . . people of different cultures. It just offends their sense of the way things s’posed to be.

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