Reiss notes that in Connecticut, for example, the rate of religious withdrawals from school vaccine requirements fell from 1.7 to 2.7 percent between 2012 and 2019, although there has been no change. corresponding in the religious composition of the state. In California, the rate almost quadrupled between 1994 and 2009. The increase in exclusion rates correlated, as one would expect, with the increase in infections. In 2019, two decades after measles was declared “eliminated”, the CDC reported 22 epidemics and 1,249 cases, the highest number since 1992.
Reiss posed the problem bluntly in a article 2014 : âFirst, people lie to get a religious exemption. Second, American case law makes it very difficult to prevent such abuses.
The state legislature can Christian Scientists thought when they put the exemptions into law. The problem is that exclusions cannot legally be limited to a particular denomination, or even to members of the organized religion. In 2001, for example, a federal judge ruled that Arkansas’ vaccine exemption violated the Constitution because it only applied to members of a “recognized church or religious denomination.” Arkansas responded by changing the law to allow parents to apply for a âpersonal beliefâ exemption, a path 14 other states are currently following. Research has find that those states grant more non-medical exemptions than states that limit them to religious claims.
While the language of religious objections generally refers to âsomeone’s sincere belief,â judges are understandably reluctant to try to read someone’s heart and mind. This creates room for evil when it interacts with a cultural shift that constitutional law scholar Robert Post calls “protest of religion” – the growing sense that religious doctrine is not transmitted by hierarchical organizations, nor even governed by internal coherence, but is a matter of individual private belief. Everyone is potentially a religion of one, an echo of the 1879 Supreme Court warning about allowing “every citizen to become law for himself.”
If American religious objectors don’t draw inspiration from official teachings, where do they get them? To some extent, the answer seems to be Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the right-wing media. The result is âreligiousâ opposition to vaccine mandates that is sometimes indistinguishable from a political stance.
A recent Washington post item captures the phenomenon in detail. A Tennessee pastor urges his audience of “patriots” to run for office to fight Covid restrictions. Protesters at a school board meeting in Florida wear shirts that read “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” and accuse the board members of being “demonic entities.” A nurse at the head of a protest against vaccination warrants for medical workers in Pennsylvania asks the crowd “to cheer if they love America, freedom, ‘God given rights’ and Jesus.”
These are extreme cases. But they illustrate the volatility of religious waivers at a time when opposition to public health measures itself begins to sound like an article of faith. So the problem is not just that people will say their objections are religious when in fact they are not. It is because they will say that their objections are religious and sincere.
When it comes mandates imposed by the employer, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires companies to provide “reasonable accommodation” based on employees’ religious beliefs, as long as they are not a burden on the company. As for the government, despite federal and state religious freedom laws, there is quite a bit of case law suggesting that religious exemptions are not necessary. Following measles outbreaks, the legislatures of California, New York and Maine have all recently eliminated religious exemptions from school vaccination warrants, and these repeals have been upheld in court.
But that doesn’t mean the current Supreme Court majority will agree with Covid vaccine mandates that don’t include religious withdrawal. The pendulum of the law on religious freedom can swing dramatically. The Scalia decision of 1990 was so unpopular that a near-unanimous Congress quickly passed the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, which restored the standard of “strict control” to federal laws. Twenty-one states have their own version status. Several conservative justices of the court have pleaded for the complete overturning of the 1990 ruling.
So far, warrant cases across the country have presented themselves in different ways. A federal judge in Louisiana ruled that a private university that uses public facilities cannot require vaccination. In New York City, a federal judge temporarily barred the state from enforcing its mandate against healthcare workers who raise a religious objection. Other challenges failed: Notably, a group of students sued Indiana University for her tenure, but Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic appointed by Donald Trump, rejected their appeal. In this case, the university offered generous accommodation, allowing students to be tested regularly. We still don’t know what would have happened if the school had instead told unvaccinated students that they weren’t welcome on campus.
Two dynamics help explain why these cases unfold so chaotically. First, most of the case law on vaccine requirements relates to schoolchildren, where warrants are particularly easy to defend. An adult who refuses vaccines for their child risks the health of someone too young to make their own decisions. This is not the case for mandates that apply to adults.