Religious Exemption – What Religious Exemption?

I keep hearing about people claiming they have a religious objection to (1) wearing a mask and/or (2) getting a COVID vaccination. I have asked the Twitterverse to identify the religion that contains such prohibitions in its doctrine, so far without response.

To be clear, I am not writing this to belittle anyone’s religious faith. I write to raise the highly relevant question in the pandemic of what exactly qualifies as a valid “religious exemption” to masking and/or vaccination.

My thesis is that (1) the sudden discovery during the pandemic of one’s “religious doctrine” is just too convenient and is not a valid claim; (2) to make a valid religious exemption claim, at least two things must be demonstrated: (a) an established discoverable documented statement of clear doctrine opposing the use of masks/vaccinations to prevent/limit disease on the basis of an identified moral/ethical code, and (2) evidence that the claimant has in actual fact practiced the doctrines of the asserted religious for an extended period prior to the pandemic.

Point (1) should not be that hard. Established religions that have such doctrines can be expected to have produced writings/speeches/published practice directives that make these assertions and tie them to some “higher power” ethical controlling principles. I am not aware that such religions exist. Christian Science may be one, though I am not clear that it actually rejects vaccination conceptually. But I am not an expert on religions and there may be others. Waiting.

Point (2) may be much harder for many people. I do not accept that a person may make a valid religious exemption claim if they suddenly discover that their “religion” has some doctrine that may be used as an exemption support, and they then decide to assert it when the reality is that they never followed the doctrine before.

I am astonished and perplexed to learn that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has adopted as policy in its Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination the “principle” that in practice means a religious exemption is in most cases whatever the person says it is, regardless of past practice of adherence or any other considerations. I am not going to elaborate on my judgment of that – if you’re interested, you can find the details here: https://bit.ly/3yUWlIh I do believe it is conceptually and otherwise preposterous.

But that such muddled thinking is part of government policy, at least in one domain, it is small wonder that people are using religious exemption claims to cover their political or merely ignorant resistance to public health measures that have been shown to limit COVID infection spread. The resisters – the anti-makers and anti-vaxxers – are not only dying at much higher rates than the vaccinated, but they are facilitating the “evolution” of the virus into more virulent strains, such as the Delta Variant that is ravaging the country now. Breakthrough infections, with sometimes deadly outcomes, are increasing also. This is virtually certain to result from vast numbers of unvaccinated people walking among us.

My limited understanding of religion is that any legitimate one has an ethical/moral foundation of principles to live by. Whether it’s one deity or many, a set of principles to live by is the central idea. If so, I can’t help wondering what foundation of ethical/moral principles the people who suddenly found religion think they are asserting. Their new “religion” has the effect of exposing themselves and, worse, others to a deadly disease. What principle of ethics/morality justifies that? How do they square their supposed adherence to a set of ethical/moral principles while basically lying about their “sincerely held religious beliefs?”

1 thought on “Religious Exemption – What Religious Exemption?

  1. Brian E Schwartz

    Paul,
    Has been indeed many years since we have talked. Your insights into the pandemic and the reasons they used to exonerate them from taking the vaccine is in the preposterous. I have autoimmune disease personally, and I’ve already taken a third booster shot.
    Daily I see people justifying not wearing a mask in your face. They don’t seem to care and it’s not worth the time to elucidate. Religion is one excuse, government, politics, are reasons they give for the position they take. How unfortunate that others have no empathy for one another to protect themselves as well as others.

    It seems that’s the way it is, it’s my right in my freedom is the answer. What about the rights of others who are part of the USA. Are we not the country this supposed to set an example for the world because we’re not doing so, in fact the opposite.

    We can also discuss so many topics like prejudice, climate change( that really can’t exist and it’s certainly not due to carbon dioxide emissions???). At least that is what the proponents of the oil and gas industry say while they continue to drill for oil. As for smoking cigarettes and weed, that’s okay that’s no big deal, that’s a joke.

    And as for World Peace and the part we play in our “UNIFIED” country, a bit of cynicism there, what shall we do?

    You are the attorney, and yet it seems to me that the constitution of the United States says, “We the People…. liberty and justice for all”.

    Take care of yourself Paul and have a happy life, Brian Schwartz 😊

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