Many faith leaders say no to endorsing vaccine exemptions

Many faith leaders say, "Not with our endorsement." As a significant number of Americans seek exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination mandates,
Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America stated Thursday that, while some people might not be able to receive the vaccine for medical reasons, the Orthodox Church for Her faithful cannot exclude anyone from receiving it for religious reasons.

The Holy Eparchial Synod, which represents the largest percentage of Eastern Orthodox Americans in the United States (national archdiocese), urged members to listen to qualified medical authorities and to avoid false narratives that are utterly unfounded by science.

According to the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros, no clergy can issue religious exemption letters. Any such letter is invalid.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also issued a statement encouraging vaccination use, and stating that there is no evidence for religious exemption in either its own tradition or in the larger Lutheran tradition.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York outlined its position during the summer. It stated that any priest who issues an exemption letter would be acting contrary to Pope Francis' statements that the vaccination is morally permissible and responsible.

The Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops both said that Catholics can get the vaccines in good faith given the lack of other options and the goal of alleviating pain, even though they object to any research with any connection to abortion.

Many dioceses have adopted similar policies to New York's. Bishops in El Paso (Texas) and Lexington (Ky.) have mandated vaccinations for their employees.

Other Catholic jurisdictions, however, are more open to exemptions. The Colorado Catholic Conference is the state's policy arm and has made available online a template letter for priests to sign that states that a parishioner can draw upon Catholic values to oppose the vaccines. The bishops of South Dakota have taken the same stance.

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Many Catholics and abortion opponents are concerned that COVID-19 vaccines, which are the most popular, were tested on fetal cells lines created over many decades in laboratories. However, the vaccines do not contain such material.

As mandates are increasingly enforced by employers in both the public and private sectors, this issue becomes more contentious.

An exemption letter from the clergy is not required for an individual to be granted. However, federal law requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs. A clergy endorsement may be helpful for those who are seeking to support their claim.

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, of First Baptist Dallas (a Southern Baptist megachurch), said that he and his staff do not encourage members to seek religious exemptions from vaccine mandates.

He said via email that there is no compelling religious argument against vaccines. Christians who are concerned about the use of a human fetal cell line to test the vaccines for testing would have to stop using Tylenol and Pepto Bismol as well as Ibuprofen if they are serious.

Eric Hawkins, a church spokesperson, stated that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't provide exemptions religiously for vaccines for its members. The leaders of the Utah-based faith made pleas to members to get vaccinated, even though doctrine recognizes that it is up to each individual to choose.

The Brigham Young University of the Church has asked students to report their vaccination status, but it is not requiring them to do so. Additionally, U.S. missionaries who are serving abroad will also need to be vaccinated.

Other religious groups such as the Orthodox Union (an umbrella organization for Orthodox Judaism) and the United Methodist Church have encouraged people get vaccines, but have not issued any policy statements regarding exemptions.

The Fiqh Council of North America is made up of Islamic scholars and has advised Muslims to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. It also debunked myths and baseless rumors about them.

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This report was contributed by David Crary and Brady McCombs, both Salt Lake City, Utah.

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The Lilly Endowment provides support to Associated Press' religion coverage through The Conversation U.S. This content is the sole responsibility of The Associated Press

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