Opinion

Your personal feelings about the COVID vaccine do not constitute a religious exemption

Vaccine mandates are rightfully crafted with a high bar for exemptions.

If the goal of policymakers was to warm the public to the COVID vaccines, it is hard to imagine a worse strategy than insulting the vaccine-resistant population while forcing mandates onto their employers.

I know a lot of people who have made the journey from outright resistance to hesitancy to ambivalence to grudgingly (or not so grudgingly) getting the shot. I am always glad to share my own vaccinated status as a persuasive factor, free of side effects and replete with maskless benefits. I have also had plenty of conversations with those who show no intent of making that journey.

While I support the vaccines and any business’s right to require them, I steadfastly oppose the Biden administration making that choice for any business. But as vaccine opponents predictably dig in deeper, a strategy is blossoming in their ranks: the creatively crafted “religious objection.”

That is a term that has a meaning. Throughout its use as an insulator against various obligations, it has been defined as adherence to a set of beliefs that precludes one from meeting an imperative required of others. From pharmacy employees seeking to avoid dispensing emergency contraception to clergy members declining to perform gay weddings, there has been no shortage of people asserting fervently held beliefs as a shield against various obligations.

But what are the criteria? How deeply entrenched must such an objection be? Must it be a product of membership in an established religious organization, or can it be a simple matter of personal conscience?

Churches of note have not told their flocks to avoid the vaccine specifically. So, for many, invoking a religious objection is a product of individual reflection rather than institutional instruction. This has not dimmed the devoutness of many objectors I have encountered, usually after learning that their attempt at a religious exception has not succeeded at work or in the military.

They are mightily offended, as if their beliefs have been disrespected. But from the armed forces to the airlines to various health care providers, vaccine requirements have been purposefully crafted with a high bar for avoidance. If the trigger for an exception is merely a preference based on conscience, the policies would become meaningless as any assertion of reluctance would suffice. The point of religious objections is to provide relief for people declaring that compliance would place them at odds with their faith.

Opinions varied on the merits of Muhammad Ali’s religious objection to the draft in the 1960s, but he did not claim that he prayed about it and decided he could not go to Vietnam; he represented that his Nation of Islam membership systemically prohibited it. Every conversation I’ve had with a faith-based vaccine objector revolves around prayerful consideration and the biblical regard for our bodies as temples.

Those are important, but Scripture provides no specific admonition against the vaccines, and no basis for identifying one vaccine specifically as violative of the high regard we are supposed to have for what we allow into our systems. Outside of a long-standing and articulated theological objection to medical intervention, these become heartfelt assertions based on personal preference, not broad invocations of doctrine.

The faithful are called to pray about all kinds of decisions large or small, but if I pray about a choice between option A and option B and I feel guided toward A, it does not mean I had a religious objection to B.

The other assertion of religious aversion to the vaccine revolves around a pro-life assertion of unacceptable fetal tissue entanglement. But this is widely misunderstood. There is no fetal cellular content in any of the vaccines. According to an explanation by Nebraska Medicine, a health network associated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, fetal cell lines, that is, cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago, were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

This technology has been used in multiple vaccines in our history. There is nothing in these vaccines’ development that has caused or benefited from a single additional abortion. This is why the Catholic church has given its approval, and no church anyone has ever heard of has differed on this argument.

It is understandable that vaccine objectors would seek the thick shield of religious exemption. It is a valued carve-out in our American system. But this strain of vaccine pushback is far more a matter of individual conscience. This logic comes from neither a holy book nor a clerical pulpit. This doesn’t mean it is any less sincerely held, and any organization with a vaccine requirement is free to ratchet its standard down to a conscience exception if it wishes. But at that point, there is really no requirement at all.

Mark Davis is a radio host and frequent contributor to The Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show airs from 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays on KSKY-AM (660). Email: markdavisshow@gmail.com

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