The Biden administration recently announced a widespread vaccine mandate. While the guidelines will encourage more federal workers and health care staff to seek the shots, they’ve also pushed some of the last vaccine holdouts to seek religious exemptions, whether or not they actually needed them. But these objectors might run into some unexpected trouble—some big-name church leaders are not signing off on the exemptions.
Several prominent church leaders recently announced that they weren’t granting exemptions, nor did they think their faiths were incompatible with the vaccine. “There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines,” the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor, told the Associated Press in an email this week. Jeffress is best known for his conservative views and was a prominent supporter of Donald Trump.
People are seeking the exemptions in large numbers. The Los Angeles Police Department said that 2,600 employees are seeking faith-based exemptions. Washington state is reporting that 3,800 of its 60,000 employees are doing the same.
But several large churches have announced that they will not be granting any exemptions, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Previously, Catholics, who are anti-abortion, expressed concern that coronavirus vaccine research used fetal cell lines. However, the vaccine itself does not contain any and the Vatican announced that Catholics may receive the vaccine in good conscience.
In response to the flood of requests to be exempt on the basis of religion, some employers are pushing back. One Arkansas hospital is asking anyone who objects because of the fetal cell line issue to also abstain from over-the-counter drugs that have been tested in a similar fashion. United Airlines announced that anyone who receives an exemption will either be reassigned or forced to go on temporary unpaid leave.
The state of New York simply did not include a religious exemption in its mandate for employees and is now facing a lawsuit. Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has vowed to fight it, saying: “I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion…Everybody from the pope on down is encouraging people to get vaccinated.”