Paul Waldman, a columnist with The Washington Post, warned last month that growing demands for religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines will jeopardize the nation’s ability to defeat the virus.

Waldman noted that as vaccine mandates take hold, increasing numbers of Americans are saying that they have religious objections to getting the shots. Waldman postulated that many of these people don’t really have a religious belief against vaccines and are just claiming they do to dodge getting vaccinated.

Opposition to vaccines, Waldman wrote, is almost entirely political.

“Elite conservatives – both Republican politicians and influential media figures – successfully turned vaccine refusal into an emblem of conservative identity and resistance to the Biden presidency,” he wrote. “As a result, vaccination rates are highest in blue states and lowest in red states. That vaccine refusal has become deeply political – not religious – is obvious to everyone, and most conservative refusers are forthright about it, not bothering to search for a Bible verse they can use to dress up their opposition in religious terms.”

Added Waldman, “One way or another, employers will face a deluge of exemption requests that are anything but ‘sincere.’ You will not be surprised to learn that Facebook is full of groups where people trade tips on how to work the system to get religious exemptions. And the con artists are cashing in: One pastor in Oklahoma will give you a form to download to claim a religious exemption – if you donate to his church.”

Waldman concluded, “So while we’ve had minor debates about religious exemptions to school vaccines before, we’re about to see a huge increase in the number of people who in the past gladly got flu shots and had their kids immunized against diseases such as measles and rubella, but have now suddenly discovered that God doesn’t want them to get the coronavirus vaccine. And we’ll all be put at risk.”

As this issue of Church & State went to press, the question of religious exemptions for vaccines remained unsettled. The U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 29 declined to grant an emergency order lifting a vaccine mandate for health care workers in Maine who are seeking religious exemptions. However, other legal challenges to vaccine mandates are pending.

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