May 21, 2024

Covid religious exemptions in the US are a tangled mess

Rev Jackson Lahmeyer at Sheridan Church

Many Americans who refuse to be vaccinated request an exemption because of their religious beliefs. A blog post in The Hastings Center Report throws cold water on their claims.

Bernard Prusak, a philosopher at Kings College, in Wilkes-Barr, Pennsylvania, points out that “This latest conscience war within our culture wars presents a minefield of legal and philosophical complexities for states and health care systems that want to take a hard line against religious exemptions, whether by excluding them altogether or by scrutinizing requests for them closely.”

Here is an only-in-America example of what he has in mind. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, an evangelical minister, Jackson Lahmeyer, displays a “religious exemption” form on his church’s website. (He is also running for the US Senate as a Republican.) Anyone can download the form after liking the church’s Facebook page and making a donation (of any size). Lahmeyer told AP that more than 35,000 people downloaded the form in three days.

Prusak questions whether religious exemptions even deserve to exist:

There are now so many religions in nations like the United States that it is increasingly hard to say what counts as religion. In addition, there are so many people professing no religion that it appears unfair for the law to accommodate religious beliefs in particular. Egalitarians may seek to solve this problem in two ways: either by denying that religious citizens should enjoy exemptions from generally applicable laws, or by denying that exemptions should be exclusive to religious citizens.

“Sincerity”, he argues, is fundamental to the argument – although by sincerity, he seems to mean complete consistency. The religious beliefs of refuseniks cannot be a shield for “an unsubstantiated health concern or ideological commitment” but must be consistent with their other choices.

This is the tack taken by the Conway Regional Health System in Arkansas. It requires employees who want a religious exemption to “truthfully acknowledge and affirm that my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will use any of the medications listed as examples or any other medication … that has used fetal cell lines in their development and/or testing.” It lists 30 medications, including Benadryl, Sudafed and Tylenol.