Opinion: What vaccine advocates need to understand about religious exemptions

Over the past year, a veritable cottage industry industry of religious exemptions has developed to bypass political opposition to vaccination, with preachers and pastors offer letters – sometimes for a price – which attest to conflicts between the Covid-19 vaccine and their religion.
The administration has sidestepped the issue to some extent by including in its measures a regimen of weekly testing for those who are not vaccinated. But not all companies have adopted this same framework. United Airlines, for example, plans to put some of its unvaccinated workers on leave without pay until the pandemic begins to ebb. Fox News, meanwhile, has adopted a more rigorous version of the Biden administration’s mandate, with a requirement for daily testing for unvaccinated staff – even though the network’s largest and strongest voices have called it. administration of “authoritarian”.
The White House, in return, praised Fox to CNN: “We are pleased that they have stepped up to protect their workforce and strengthen the economy, and we encourage them to make their voices heard. public that these types of practices will protect their employees, their communities and the economy … “
It seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. Yet this hypocrisy and the battle over vaccine needs is escalating – especially the turn to religious exemptions – are not just the product of the American environment of hyper-partisan reactions to pandemic restrictions (first visible in anti-mask and anti-containment protests in spring 2020 and now back in force in vaccine resistance) . The tension also reflects historical debates over the appropriate balance between governmental authority, religious freedom and the public good. This story reveals how religious exemptions were co-opted first by the anti-vaccination movement and then by the increasingly radicalized American right.

Such a longer-term view can and should inform our perception of vaccine resistance (refusal to take a vaccine) as something different from vaccine reluctance (uncertainty about taking a vaccine).

Vaccine resistant people have been around for a long time and hardly constitute a monolithic group. They have been shaped by their political and cultural environment and appear across the political spectrum. Over time, they learned to use religious exemptions to circumvent vaccination, despite the fact that no major religion prohibits vaccination, and vaccine resistant people often take advantage of religious exemptions to gain moral authority for people. often political or conspiratorial opinions. To reach this group, vaccine advocates need to better understand how religious exemptions have been politicized and how they can be limited in order to protect public health.

The need for vaccines is as old as the nation itself – in fact, it arguably made the United States possible, as George Washington relied on them during the War of Independence to keep the Continental Army in. good health in the midst of a smallpox epidemic. When Virginia passed restrictions on vaccinations, a frustrated Washington insisted in a 1777 letter to his brother, “I would rather ask for a law to oblige the owners of families to immunize every child born in a certain limited time under severe penalties.”
The soldiers would Carry on to be vaccinated until today. Those who are not in the military tend to encounter local vaccine needs when their town or city has promulgated warrants, often in response to epidemics. These mandates did not come from the federal government, although the federal government has continuously worked to support immunization. The Supreme Court, for example, clarified the legitimacy of these demands at the start of the 20th century, in power in 1905 that states could impose fines and penalties on those who refused to be vaccinated. (Note that this is different from forced vaccination, as those who refused were fined, not required to be vaccinated.) The court decided later that public schools could require vaccines as a condition of enrollment.
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With the expansion of compulsory education and mass military conscription in the first half of the 20th century, vaccination has become an integral part of the lives of millions of Americans. Vaccine mandates during the polio epidemic of the 1950s, effectively halting the spread of the devastating disease. Childhood vaccinations have become a part of standard pediatric care, and immunization mandates have become a normal, if not trivial, part of life in the United States.
This is not to say that there is also no history of opposition to these demands, which are as long as the history of vaccines requires. This opposition became particularly visible at the end of the 19th century. The Anti-Vaccination Society of America, founded in 1879, campaigns carried out against state vaccine laws, causing some states to prohibit vaccination warrants (another phenomenon which is not unique in our time).
It is also during this period that exemptions from vaccines for religious or personal convictions has become more common. Anti-vaccine activists were partly to blame for the change, pushing for exemptions after the Supreme Court ruled that the mandates on vaccines were constitutional. Another wave of anti-vaccination lobbying followed the introduction of the polio vaccine, when opponents of compulsory vaccination fought for waivers of new mandates, successfully inserting exemptions into vaccine laws in states. like Michigan and Ohio.

The same pattern appeared in the 1960s and 1970s after the development of a measles vaccine. Resistance came from all walks of life, although leftist resistance fighters often preferred the language of personal belief over that of religion.

In recent years, before the Covid-19 pandemic, these forces once again peaked, as a growing anti-vaccination movement led to the re-emergence of diseases like measles. This in turn has led some states to repeal their exemptions from religious or personal beliefs. In New York, for example, following a record measles epidemic in 2019 focused on ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, the state legislature repealed its religious exemption for vaccines.
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With standards on mandates, exemptions, and public health already evolving before the Covid-19 pandemic and a Republican president downplaying the severity of the pandemic as it worsened in 2020, it’s no surprise in retrospect that mitigation measures quickly became objects of partisan derision and opposition. And while for a moment it seemed possible that the vaccine could escape this political vortex, as President Trump sang about the “miracle” vaccine produced during his administration, that window of opportunity closed as news broke. Democratic administration was beginning and Trump’s statements about vaccination became more partisan.
That religious exemptions are emerging as a strategy of resistance on the right is not surprising either. In recent decades, the right has increasingly channeled political resistance through the framework of religious exemptions: opposition to marriage equality, trans rights, reproductive health care under the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court expanded the scope of religious exemptions available to for-profit businesses in Burwell Entrance Hall c. Hobby in 2014, ruling that the craft store chain had a sincere religious belief that would be unduly weighed down by offering contraceptive coverage as part of its employee health insurance benefits. The victory underscored for conservatives that religious exemptions could be a powerful way to undermine policies they oppose.
It’s no wonder, then, that some right-wing vaccine resistors are now turning to religious exemption to circumvent vaccination mandates, even though the Supreme Court has previously judged that religious belief does not automatically exempt people from following laws such as vaccine requirements. The effort is in part aimed at getting the court to rethink its position on the balance between public health and religious beliefs (something that the Supreme Court, which earlier this year overturned New York’s pandemic restrictions on religious ceremonies in the dining room, has shown that it is open to doing).

But it’s also part of a much larger effort to, in the short term, quell the Biden administration’s attempts to bring the pandemic under control and, in the long run, make religious exemptions a primary and powerful tool to undermine so many policies. liberal as possible.

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