For Covid Vaccine Religious Exemptions – Your Sincerely Held Beliefs Are What Matter

"Let me repeat – you do not need a note from your bishop or your priest to support a request for a religious exemption. The beliefs of our clergy are not the issue in such a request. Your religious beliefs are. . ."

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Reflections

For many Orthodox Christians, the COVID vaccines present moral problems. All of them made some use of aborted fetal cells at some stage(s) of testing, development, production, and design. An Orthodox MD provided a handy chart to illustrate this:

Known Role of Aborted Fetal Cell Lines in Some Covid-19 Vaccines

Orthodox Christians are pro-life. Any connection to the use of aborted fetal cell lines is morally troubling for many. In addition, the mRNA technologies involve an alteration of Human Substance/Ontology at the cellular level. For many Orthodox Christians, this is an immoral change to our humanity.

Despite these two important facts, many Orthodox Christians have indicated to us that their priests are unwilling to support their requests for religious exemptions. A segment of Orthodox priests and bishops believe the vaccines are morally acceptable. There are multiple reasons for that, including:

  • Misunderstanding the facts. Several bishops have indicated that aborted fetal lines were only used in confirmatory testing. That is not the case, as the chart above makes clear. Even in the case of Pfizer, we cannot be sure that aborted fetal cells were only used in testing.
  • The age of the fetal cell lines is cited by some Orthodox leaders. The aborted fetal lines date back to the 1960’s and have been cultured in the lab for decades. Therefore, some Orthodox clergy have concluded that they are acceptable to use.
  • The good outweighs the bad. While some clergy acknowledge that a connection to aborted fetal cells is morally troubling, the lives saved from the vaccines outweigh the concerns in their opinion.
  • Many clergy simply don’t want to get involved and be criticized as “anti-science” or run the risk of stirring up division in their parishes. If they support religious exemptions, they could be seen as implicitly condemning the choices made by their vaccinated parishioners. Or even their own decisions to be vaccinated.

While this situation is frustrating, it is not really a barrier to requesting a religious exemption. You do not need clergy support for a religious exemption to the Covid vaccines. What matters is your deeply held, sincere interpretation of your religious beliefs. This is from the Petrie Flom Center at Harvard Law:

Additionally, states cannot refuse an exemption to those whose interpretation differs from their religion’s doctrine regarding vaccination. It’s not the state job to enforce a religion’s rules on its believers, the state is tasked simply with assessing whether the religious objection is sincere. This too makes sense, but again, makes it harder to challenge religious exemption claims by members of religions that support vaccines. Assessing sincerity is tricky grounds.

Let me repeat – you do not need a note from your bishop or your priest to support a request for a religious exemption. The beliefs of our clergy are not the issue in such a request. Your religious beliefs are. As you might imagine, Harvard Law is not noted for its support of religious freedom. Yet, even Harvard has had to acknowledge that state governments cannot be empowered to interpret religious rules. Secular bureaucrats are simply not up to the challenge.

Neither is your company’s HR Department.

An Orthodox poster has done a tremendous of accumulating a substantial amount of proof that the Covid vaccines are immoral for Orthodox Christians. The links to his documents are at the bottom of this article. I strongly suggest you download them and use his research as the basis of your request.

Here are some additional suggestions:

  • State multiple times in your exemption request that you have a sincere, deeply held religious objection to these vaccines. Make that very, very clear.
  • Use the research provided in the documents, plus any additional research, to submit a lengthy request. A short request, even if it were from a priest / pastor, is more likely to be challenged. Make your case in a detailed manner. The more supporting research, the better.
  • The person reading your request doesn’t have to subscribe to your religious beliefs. In fact, to him / her, they could be completely incomprehensible. The secular world doesn’t understand Orthodoxy very well. But whoever is reviewing your request needs to believe that you sincerely believe what you are saying. Sometimes, as Orthodox Christians, we are reticent to talk about our faith as we might seem “proud.” This is not the time for humility. Be direct in your verbiage as to why these vaccines are repugnant to you as a committed Orthodox Christian. Your faith is of utmost importance to you. Everyone reading your request has to come away understanding that fact.
  • There is going to be a lot of concern that religious exemptions will be used to “game the system.” This is from the previously cited Harvard Law article, “In fact, given the amount of misinformation about vaccine safety and the virus, chances are that most of the exemption requests are from people who do not want to get COVID-19 vaccines because of safety concerns or misinformation about the pandemic.” In your request, do not mention concerns over potential side effects, lack of FDA approval, or lack of efficacy. You may very well have other concerns besides your moral objections. However, if you put those concerns into your request, then it will only muddy the waters and increase the likelihood that your request will be challenged. It is enough to reject these vaccines because they are offensive to God. No other reasons are necessary for those of us who care about our immortal souls.
  • Do not merely copy / paste the information contained in the documents below. The documents have been emailed, downloaded, and reposted hundreds of thousands of times. These are guides. Make the information your own. These are your deeply held beliefs. Take the time and effort to make your case for why Holy Orthodoxy rejects these vaccines.
  • Lastly, if you are challenged on the merits of your exemption request – continue to repeat that you have sincere, deeply held religious objections to these vaccines. Know the facts of your beliefs as you have presented them in your exemption request. Stick to the points you have already made in writing. Do not debate the merits of these vaccines in terms of safety or efficacy. You have no opinion on those topics. Do not discuss vaccines in general. Do not get into a debate over what the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch or anyone else has said about these vaccines. Your beliefs are the issue here, not anyone else’s. Do not answer hypothetical questions such as, “Would this be okay if the vaccine saved your child’s life?” If you feel that your rights are being infringed, be prepared to seek legal counsel.

May the Holy Theotokos save us.

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