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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.
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