As we’ve warned previously on this blog, allowing widespread religious exemptions to coronavirus vaccines will only prolong the pandemic and put all of us at risk.
We’re seeing this play out in California, where thousands of Los Angeles police officers are seeking religious exemptions from a city requirement that all municipal employees get vaccinated.
Vaccinations for police officers are especially important. They work closely with members of the public; you can’t put a piece of Plexiglass between cops and the people they protect and serve.
Michael Moore, L.A.’s chief of police, is urging police officers to do the right thing and take the shot.
“It is a bit frustrating to see still a core group of our organization that has continued to decline or refuse to take this vaccine,” Moore told a local TV station. “We want to follow the science. … This vaccination saves lives.”
As Americans United noted in a legal brief filed last month, religious exemptions must be looked at differently than medical exemptions. Some people can’t be safely vaccinated, and medical exemptions make sense for them. But the existence of medical exemptions doesn’t mean that religious exemptions must also be offered.
AU’s brief cites examples from several communities, including Los Angeles, where requests for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination requirements are skyrocketing. They’re much higher than requests for medical exemptions. If allowed to grow unchecked, demands for religious exemptions will undermine the government’s public health goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
There’s some debate about whether many of the people who are suddenly demanding religious exemptions are sincere; many may simply be using religion as a tool to get around taking a vaccine that they oppose for non-religious reasons. But as AU President and CEO Rachel Laser noted in a recent interview with NPR, we don’t have to try to gauge sincerity if we simply recognize the obvious fact that religious freedom has limits.
“We believe firmly that religious freedom should not be a license to cause harm to others,” Laser said. Under this standard, even a sincere request for a religious exemption can be denied if it puts the lives of others at risk.
Some companies in the private sector are leading the way. United Airlines has 67,000 employees in the United States, and nearly all of them are vaccinated. United is not automatically granting religious exemptions, and employees who continue to refuse the vaccine may be fired.
Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines, told The New York Times that he decided to move aggressively after receiving word this summer that a United pilot had died of coronavirus.
“We concluded enough is enough,” Kirby said. “People are dying, and we can do something to stop that with United Airlines.”
Officials in Los Angeles should take note.