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Vaccine Mandates and the God-Given Right to Spread Covid

3 10 17

More than 670,000 Americans have now died from Covid-19 in the last 18 months, with thousands dying in recent weeks even though a safe and effective vaccine is widely available. Americans have not died in such numbers since the Spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago or the Civil War 50 years before that. For most, this is a moment of profound tragedy and inescapable grief.

And yet for some, such as Jackson Lahmeyer, a 29-year-old pastor and Republican candidate for office in Oklahoma, it’s an opportunity. Lahmeyer recently announced on his website that he would offer forms for individuals who want religious exemptions from vaccine mandates and sign them in exchange for donations to his church. “What if someone says, ‘God told me not to get a vaccine,’” he told The Washington Post in an interview last week. “I don’t know if God told them that. I’m not going to argue with that.”

As the public and the government lose patience with vaccine-hesitant groups and increase pressure on them to get the shot, the questions surrounding religious exemptions will almost certainly grow. It’s possible that most of the holdouts will begrudgingly comply with mandates so they can work and participate in normal life. But it’s also likely that some of these claims will end up in court, where judges will have to balance the interests of the sincerely faithful against our public health needs, and determine who among the refuseniks have genuine religious objections and who is merely fighting a culture war through different means.

There is evidence that vaccine hesitancy does differ among religious groups. A July survey by the Public Research Research Institute found that around 80 to 85 percent of Catholic and Jewish Americans said they accepted the vaccine, while 75 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans took the same stance. Roughly two-thirds of Latter-Day Saints and Black Protestants favored vaccination in the same survey. The lowest acceptance rates were among Hispanic Protestants and white evangelicals, among whom just over half of adherents describe themselves as favorable toward the vaccine.

There are also signs that faith leaders can play an important role in fostering vaccine acceptance. In August, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a statement urging followers to receive the shot. “To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated,” the church’s three leading figures said. “Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective. We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.” In Utah, where vaccination rates had lagged below the national average, a noticeable uptick in new vaccinations soon followed.

One advantage for those proposing vaccine mandates is that no major religious group forbids vaccination outright, even two Christian denominations that are well known........

© New Republic

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