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Latter-day Saints cannot obtain a vaccine exemption from a church leader

The Church Office Building and the Salt Lake Temple, which is under renovation, are pictured during the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 4, 2021.
The Church Office Building and the Salt Lake Temple, which is under renovation, are pictured during the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 4, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not issue religious exemptions to members who want to be excused from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, church spokesmen confirmed this week.

The confirmations, provided to the Deseret News and other media outlets, are unsurprising, given the church’s longstanding support for vaccinations in general and that President Russell M. Nelson specifically has called the COVID-19 vaccines “a literal godsend.”

The lack of a church-issued note for a religious exemption does not preclude Latter-day Saints from applying for a religious exemption if their employer has mandated vaccination, according to legal experts.

Catholic, evangelical and other religious leaders told The Associated Press this week that they will not offer exemptions, either. Some mentioned that their adherents object to the vaccines because fetal cell lines were used in testing — the vaccines themselves do not contain fetal cells — but Catholic and evangelical leaders told the AP that the overarching goal of alleviating suffering caused by COVID-19 resolved any moral or religious objection on those grounds.

The Latter-day Saint spokesmen pointed to the church’s General Handbook entry on vaccinations.

Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.

Ultimately, individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. If members have concerns, they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency were vaccinated in January and repeatedly have encouraged and urged church members to follow suit, if their health permits. In a letter released Wednesday morning, the First Presidency noted that previous First Presidencies issued messages supporting vaccinations as early as 1900 and again during the polio crisis in the 1950s.

They are requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for American missionaries who serve in foreign countries.

Legal experts say that religious exemptions do not require a note from an ecclesiastical leader, though one could help, according to the legal website JD Supra.

Federal law prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation when an employee claims a religious exemption. On one hand, federal and state laws say employers do not need to allow a religious exemption when an accommodation would cause an “undue hardship” for the employer, which could be triggered by the need to protect the health of other employees and the costs associated with providing COVID-19 testing, according to JD Supra.

On the other hand, laws offer broad definitions of what could qualify for religious exemptions.

Still, Melanie Franco, a New York employment attorney, told News10.com that moral or philosophical objections are not enough to establish a religious exemption.

“It has to be that sincere belief,” she said. “You don’t often have to prove it using documents or anything like that, although using your religious scripture is always helpful.”

Most Americans support vaccinations, according to polling, and the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine as safe and reliable, but about a third of adults have not yet received it, according to the CDC.

My recent stories

As COVID-19 surges, First Presidency asks for masks in temples, urges vaccination (Sept. 22)

This is the 4th year in a row an Apostle has addressed the G20 Interfaith Forum. Here’s what Elder Rasband said about participating (Church News, Sept. 15)

The world’s hunger calamity is spiraling out of control. Here’s how Latter-day Saint Charities has responded (Sept. 14)

What I’m reading

After 555 days without rehearsals, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square returned to the Conference Center this week to prepare for general conference. How will the choir avoid COVID-19 infections? Read what new choir president Mike Leavitt means when he says the choir is using a “Swiss cheese” approach.

The church and FamilySearch reached an “incredible milestone,” digitizing 2.4 million rolls of microfilm with records for 11.5 billion people.

This is a nice piece about Latter-day Saint baseball star Bryce Harper.

I’m enjoying The New York Times series on the Black baseball stars of yesteryear.

Here is an interesting story about Latter-day Saint medical students who developed a study system that’s helping future doctors “conquer the masses of information they need to know to pass their exams.”

The church broke ground for the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple.

Elder Ted E. Brewerton, a General Authority Seventy and optimist, died at age 96.

The church will pay $250 million into a fund for Boy Scout sexual abuse victims.

Remember the film “Meet the Mormons?” Remember the Navy football coach, Ken Niumatalolo? Read a great feature about him that asks the question, how long can he keep winning despite all the disadvantages his team faces?

The church released exterior renderings for four temples to be built in Yorba Linda, California; Grand Junction, Colorado; Burley, Idaho; and Elko, Nevada.

Behind the scenes

The Meridian Line in the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna, Italy sports the longest meridian in the world.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband’s visit last week to Bologna, Italy, brought him close to the Basilica di San Petronio, the 10th largest church in the world. One of its claims to fame is that it is home to the Meridian Line, the longest meridian in the world. Created in 1656 by astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the line corresponds to 1/600,000 of the earth’s circumference. The sun’s rays enter the church from a hole 27 meters above ground. Those rays strike the line at a different place each day at noon.
Tad Walch, Deseret News