Religion Unplugged

As COVID-19 vaccine war rages, focus on religious exemptions grows

By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged

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Back in March, I wrote a column about the joy and hope the COVID-19 vaccines had brought my family after more than a year of pandemic disruption.

I prayed that those skeptical of the vaccines eventually would recognize the benefits of protecting themselves — and their loved ones — from potential serious illness and death.

Yet here we are six months later, with coronavirus infections and deaths at “levels not seen since last winter” and religion often at the center of the vaccine war.

Colleen Long and Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press report:

An estimated 2,600 Los Angeles Police Department employees are citing religious objections to try to get out of the required COVID-19 vaccination. In Washington state, thousands of state workers are seeking similar exemptions.

And in Arkansas, a hospital has been swamped with so many such requests from employees that it is apparently calling their bluff.

Religious objections, once used sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.

And it is only likely to grow following President Joe Biden’s sweeping new vaccine mandates covering more than 100 million Americans, including executive branch employees and workers at businesses with more than 100 people on the payroll.

In a front-page report, New York Times religion writer Ruth Graham notes:

Major religious traditions, denominations and institutions are essentially unanimous in their support of the vaccines against Covid-19. But as more employers across the country begin requiring Covid vaccinations for workers, they are butting up against the nation’s sizable population of vaccine holdouts who nonetheless see their resistance in religious terms — or at least see an opportunity. Vaccine-resistant workers are sharing tips online for requesting exemptions to the requirements on religious grounds; others are submitting letters from far-flung religious authorities who have advertised their willingness to help.

Read the full column.

This column appears in the online magazine Religion Unplugged.

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