Religious exemption may be a loophole in vaccine mandates

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While some people begin to apply for a religious exemption to avoid workplace coronavirus vaccine mandates, UCSB religious studies professor Joseph Blankholm says he does not know of any Christian doctrine that would ban immunization. Photo by Shutterstock.

While a growing number of companies are implementing the coronavirus vaccine mandate for their employees, there’s often one caveat: Workers can be exempt if they have a religious reason. 

And employees may not have to provide concrete evidence of devoutness to be eligible for the religious exemption. That’s largely because it would be difficult for employers to determine just how faithful their workers are.

“Let’s say you’re a small employer. Are you going to become a theologian to ask yourself whether this person is sincere?” asks Joseph Blankholm, religious studies professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

He tells KCRW that it would require a lot of resources and time for employers to go through exemption applicants’ history of religious activities to see whether their beliefs are “sincerely held.”

“Sincerity is consistency — consistency of belief, consistency of behavior. [Employers] should be able to look at points in the past and say, ‘Yeah, this person is thinking this.’”

The religion scholar points out he does not know of any doctrine among Evangelical Christians that would ban vaccination. “[A religious exemption] is not something that everyone offers for other vaccinations like measles, mumps and rubella,” explains Blankholm.

But he believes religious leaders’ public endorsement of the coronavirus vaccine may help prevent people from taking advantage of the religious exemption. 

“It makes it harder for people to make the claim of having a sincerely held religious belief. It will dissuade them from having the confidence to make that claim.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced it will not authorize religious exemption letters for Catholics. And Pope Francis and LA Archbishop Jose Gomez released a video message, urging faithfuls to roll up their sleeves because getting vaccinated is an “act of love.”



Larry Perel