The Vaccine Mandates
As you know, numerous employers and several colleges and universities are now mandating the vaccine for their employees and/or students. This has caused a lot of people to look into an exemption or an accommodation, relieving them from the requirement to take the vaccine.
Whether you believe the Covid vaccine is helpful or not, good or bad, safe or dangerous, is totally up to you, and we should be careful not to criticize the opinions of others, especially if they have done their research and have come to their opinion based on a thorough review of numerous different sources and perspective. Reasonable minds can disagree on all things Covid, due to the vast uncertainty and unpredictability of the virus.
Vaccine mandates are another issue. For as long as we have had vaccines, the United States legal system has allowed for medical and religious accommodations, meaning that each person has the right to decline a vaccine if they have a medical or religious objection to the vaccine. Over the years, there has been some negative public sentiment toward people who object to vaccines, leading to the disparaging label of “antivaxer” for some people. However, under the law, religious and medical exemptions are still recognized. Therefore, while vaccines are strongly encouraged in many cases, the government cannot force you to receive any vaccine. This is a freedom also recognized in Christianity. There is no Church teaching universally obliging Catholics to receive any vaccine. The best guidance on this comes from Christ Himself: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21
One Covid vaccine (which may not even be available in the U.S. yet) has now been approved by the FDA. However, for many people who have been reluctant to receive the vaccine, this approval will not be highly persuasive. Most people who are concerned about negative side effects believe the side effects will not be seen immediately, and may take years to become known. The fact remains, no vaccine is perfect, so some amount of skepticism is not unreasonable. Even those who boldly encourage people to receive the vaccination admit that there are potential negative side effects and some unknowns. In this blog, I’ll address two general reasons which should be respected by employers, the law, and even the strongest advocates for the Covid vaccine. Before I get to the two reasons, you have a little homework to do.
The first thing to do is to get a copy of your employee handbook and/or your employer’s policies (or your student handbook). If your employer is a larger business, they probably have a formal set of policies, and many employers now have policies specific to the Covid vaccination. Schools have formal policies as well. By reviewing these, you will not only know how to apply for your accommodation, but you will know the deadline for your request, and how to appeal your employer’s or school’s decision if they deny your request, or if they take adverse actions against you, up to and including termination.
Once you have reviewed the policies, the next step is to request the accommodation. I suggest you consult an attorney as you work on this step.
Under The Americans with Disabilities Act, if you have a disability, many employers and schools are required to make reasonable accommodations or exemptions which allow you continue with employment or studies. Things such as autoimmune diseases, heart conditions, cancer, neurological disorders, psychological conditions, pregnancy, and nursing might be considered disabilities under the law. This does not apply to small businesses with fewer than a certain number of employees, so consult with a local attorney to see if this applies in your situation.
In order to receive an accommodation based on a medical concern or condition, you will likely need a note or letter from your physician. Employers should also accept notes and letters from nurse practitioners. Vague concerns about “side effects” in general, will probably not be compelling to most employers. However, you may have one or more medical condition or disability which may provide perfectly valid reasons why the Covid vaccine might prove harmful to you.
If your doctor agrees to write a medical note or letter supporting your desire to decline the vaccine, your employer will be looking for something like this:
[Your name here] has been diagnosed with [medical condition]. This condition can be exacerbated by the vaccination/may lead to [another medical condition] because of the vaccine. Therefore, as [your name here]’s physician, I do not recommend that [your name here] receive the Covid vaccine.
There are additional facts which your doctor should include in his or her note or letter if the facts exist:
- If you have already had Covid and have recovered from it.
- If you have been tested for the Covid antibodies and have results which show you are positive for the antibodies.
- If you are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant.
Just as there are federal and state laws which prohibit discrimination based on a physical disability, the Civil Right Act (Title VII) prohibits discrimination based on your religious beliefs and practices.
Once again, knowing your employer’s policy on this is helpful. If you are a student, you will also want to know your school’s policy. Nearly every business and school have nondiscrimination policies which include religion as a protected class.
While there are some religions which have a formal teaching that vaccinations are to be rejected, most faiths do not have such a teaching. Therefore, most requests for accommodation based on religion will focus on the use of fetal cell lines from aborted babies. If you have a deeply held religious conviction to protect life and to avoid cooperation with abortion in all ways possible, this is the time to describe your belief in clear terms. You might state, “I have a deeply held religious conviction to protect innocent life and to resist cooperation with the taking of human life at any stage, including abortion. The use of fetal cell lines gathered from abortions is abhorrent to me”. Alternatively, you might state, “I am pro-life, and receiving in this vaccine, which has been developed and/or tested on fetal cell lines from aborted children, would be a serious violation of my conscience”.
Scripture also teaches that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, right? Is that a good basis for declining the vaccine? Not really. Here is why. While our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are created in the image and likeness of God, most of us fail to maintain our bodies at all times. Sometimes we ingest things or engage in activities which are hard on our bodies. Sometime these things and activities injure our bodies or lead to chronic illness. While it is perfectly valid to argue that we, as Christians, are called to maintain our bodies because of the teachings of Scripture, I would not recommend making this the primary or sole basis for your religious exemption. The strongest argument is that of your conscience and the 5th Commandment, “Thou shall not kill”. While receiving the vaccine is in no way an act of murder or violence, for some, it is a participation in the evil of abortion. Even though it is remote participation, for some of us, our circumstances do not warrant even remote participation. For others, it may be remote enough, and their particular circumstances might be such that they can weigh the moral implications and satisfy their conscience. This is a very personal and individualized analysis.
If you have a pastor, minister, or brother or sister in Christ, who would be willing to verify that you did not suddenly come to this belief when your employer or school mandated vaccines, that would certainly be helpful. Although the letter should not put it quite in those terms.
What if you don’t have an organized church, or a pastor, minister, or fellow Christian who knows of your pro-life beliefs? That’s okay. Under the law, while every personal belief is not a religion, even as few as one person’s belief can constitute a religious belief. In other words, a person can have a fairly obscure belief which is not recognized by the vast majority of Christians, and which may not be considered a belief warranting protection under the law, but one individual’s belief, which is not highly inconsistent with Christian teachings may well be considered a religious belief under the law. Since many, if not most, Christians and many people from other world religions (including agnostics and atheists) believe that abortion is evil in at least some or most circumstances, your pro-life beliefs warrant protection under the law as a religious belief.
Your employer or school may have a prepared form they want you to use when applying for your accommodation. Some forms are fine, while others may require you to check boxes or answer questions which would force you to compromise on your beliefs or agree to things which you find objectionable. In such a case, you should consider submitting your own written request instead of filling out the form, or filling out only those sections of the form which do not require you to betray your beliefs. This may not be possible with some electronic forms which will not allow you to move on to the next page without checking all the boxes or answering all the questions. Therefore, your written explanation will likely be necessary in such a situation.
If a morally and ethically developed and tested vaccine were to become available, you will have to revisit your position on whether or not you will agree to receive the vaccine. For this reason, it may be necessary to “leave no stone unturned” when you apply for your accommodation, meaning that you will want to include all your objections (medical and religious), so your employer or school cannot claim that you are just looking for new reasons to avoid the vaccine if a “pro-life” compliant vaccine is approved by the FDA.
What if your employer or school points out that you have had all the other vaccines required or recommended, including the flu vaccine? Does this undermine your pro life objection to the Covid vaccine because most of these other vaccines were likely developed or tested with fetal cell lines from aborted babies? The answer for most of us is “no”. Most of us did not know that vaccines were developed or tested using fetal cell lines from aborted babies until the highly publicized emergency development and approval of the Covid vaccine. However, now that a light has been shone on this dark practice, I believe more people will be declining various vaccinations in the future, and it will force labs to use ethical and moral means of development and testing.
What if someone tries to discredit your pro-life position by claiming that the vaccine protects others from Covid, therefore, a person who is truly pro-life would certainly be willing to receive the vaccine in order to protect lives today, even if a life was lost decades ago. This is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, and it fails for several reasons in addition to being a fallacy. First, by cooperating with the immoral development and testing of the vaccine, you may be encouraging the pharmaceutical industry to continue to use fetal cell lines in future development and testing, meaning that you are not protecting lives today or tomorrow as is proposed by your critic. Secondly, if the vaccine is as effective as your critic likely proposes, only those who decline the vaccine, or who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons are at risk of infection or serious medical problems by your lack of vaccination. However, if you are willing to avoid contact with at-risk individuals, socially distance, wear a mask when necessary, monitor your own health, wash your hands, and take other measures which have been consistently recommended by health professionals, you are (by the health professionals own standards) using significant caution and protecting lives today. If you have already had Covid, you also have excellent immunity, and possibly a better defense against contracting or transmitting Covid to others than the vaccines themselves provide.
In addition to obtaining and reviewing your employer or school’s policies on vaccines and their grievance process, you should also review a few relevant religious documents on the vaccines. The first is: The Vaccine Exemption Resource for Individuals by the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the second is To Awaken Conscience. These two short documents can help you think and pray through your decision, and offer additional resources and information to help you in this process of discernment and understanding.
What if your request is rejected and you end up getting fired, placed on unpaid leave, or being expelled from school? Hopefully this never happens to you, as the law should protect you if you are careful in meeting the deadlines and making your request with the guidance of your attorney. By the way, this blog is no substitute for the guidance of your own attorney who will know your particular circumstances in much greater detail. This will give your attorney the ability to assist you with much more effectiveness. Because of this, I do recommend that you work with an attorney in the effort to obtain your medical and/or religious accommodation. This blog is no substitute for actual legal advice. On top of that, you should contact your attorney if you experience an adverse response to your request, or if you are the target of derogatory comments or hostility about your faith, your intellect, or your integrity. And you should certainly consult your attorney if you are demoted, transferred to an unpleasant or inconvenient position at work, if you are terminated, or if you are prohibited from finishing your classes at school.
In summary, most Christians agree that whether or not you receive the vaccine should be a personal decision. If it were scientifically proven that vaccinations would eradicate the world of a deadly disease, and that the vaccine was not only extremely safe, but affordable and accessible, and morally developed and tested, there would be fewer reasonable objections. However, this is not currently the case. In fact, as time passes, we are still learning new things about the virus and the vaccines. One example is that we are now told that those who are vaccinated can still transmit and contract Covid, therefore, even the vaccinated must still wear a mask when social distancing is not possible in some jurisdictions. Many people took the vaccine in order to go through life without being required to wear a mask. These people now feel betrayed, and I don’t blame them. Unfortunately, this feeling of betrayal has been a consistent experience for all of us since this virus started to spread. It is this sense of betrayal and doubt which continues to feed concerns over the safety and efficacy of the vaccinations as well as the advice we are receiving from some experts.
When you add personal health issues and religious beliefs to this, we have a wicked cocktail of disagreement, confusion, and skepticism on both sides of the issue. On one side, there are a few people who believe that the unvaccinated are worthy of punishment, sanction, ostracism, and public shaming. On the other side you have a few who think Covid is a sham which doesn’t actually exist. Both of these extremes are wrong, and they represent a very small fraction of society. Therefore, it is important to respect each other and to honor reasonable arguments and objections from both sides, especially when dealing with more reasonable people.
One thing that cannot be respected or tolerated under the U.S. Constitution or in Christianity, is the tyrannical belief that one must be vaccinated in order to work, participate in public life, socialize, receive medical care, or eat. Such unreasonable beliefs must be charitably but thoroughly corrected. If the proponent of such beliefs is impervious to reason, we must turn to those around us and help them see the unchristian and unamerican basis for such a belief.
If you feel that the vaccine is immoral, unproven, inconsistent, or unnecessary, and you base this on facts, experiences, and reasonable discussions of these facts and experiences, your opinion and beliefs should be respected even if they are not adopted.
If you feel that the vaccine is moral enough, proven, necessary, and safe, and you base this on facts, experiences, and reasonable discussions of these facts and experiences, your opinion and beliefs should be respected even if they are not adopted.
If we have learned anything in the past 18-24 months, it is to keep an open mind about everything we read, see, and hear on Covid and the methods of overcoming the virus. We know that even the experts are changing their recommendations and requirements on a regular basis, so what may be held as true today, may be called into question tomorrow. The important thing is to respect each other at all times, to will the good of the other, and to keep our minds and hearts on Jesus Christ and eternal salvation.