Two major problems with granting religious exemptions to vaccine mandates are that they are very hard to police, and that they are routinely gamed.
Religious freedom is a core value in the United States. This makes policing religious exemptions to vaccination hard – and rightly so. The government policing people’s religion raises a number of thorny issues.
The problem is that the same people who eagerly promote anti-vaccine misinformation are just as eager to misuse religion to avoid vaccinating, and have no hesitation or compunction about coaching others to do the same. And without policing, it is easy for those misled by anti-vaccine misinformation to use the religious exemption.
As Connecticut’s Senate prepares to vote tomorrow on whether to repeal Connecticut’s religious exemption from school immunization mandates, out-of-state anti-vaccine activists are mobilizing to threaten and intimidate legislators to vote against the bill.
The legislators should hold firm, and pass the bill the Governor says he will sign. They must not let aggressive attackers stop them from acting to make Connecticut’s children safer. Legislators should show the out-of-state anti-vaccine movement that intimidation doesn’t work here.
On February 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a shadow docket decision that could foretell sweeping limitations for public health measures, both within and outside the COVID-19 pandemic context.
The Court’s ruling in the case, Gateway City Church v. Newsom, blocked a county-level ban on church services, despite the fact that the ban applied across the board to all indoor gatherings. This religious exceptionalism is emerging as a key trend in recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly those related to COVID-19 restrictions.
To better understand what these rulings might mean for public health, free exercise of religion, the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, and potential vaccine mandates, I spoke with Professor Elizabeth Sepper, an expert in religious liberty, health law, and equality at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.
In the last year, colleges and universities across the U.S. struggled with how to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent data, from January 2021, shows a mix of online and in-person modes of instruction.
At the same time, a study of the experience in early fall 2020 found an association between colleges and universities with in-person instruction and increased infection incidence in the counties within which the schools were located. With vaccine authorization in the U.S. and the promise of potential availability for student populations in late spring and summer 2021 (in most states’ allocation plans these students are among the last groups in prioritization), there is increasing interest by higher education institutions in moving more of their fall 2021 educational instruction and non-instructional activities to in-person modes. Vaccinating students is a key step to safely reopening campuses, in whole or in part, in a way that is safe for students, faculty, staff, and local communities. At the same time, university leaders are likely reasonably concerned about the legality of mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Not all students, faculty or staff may appreciate such a requirement, and anti-vaccine groups are more than ready to assist in litigation — as, for example, they did when the University of California required influenza vaccines for on-campus attendance (a preliminary injunction in that case was denied). In this essay, we discuss whether universities can legally require vaccination as a condition of attendance and with what accommodations.
Much of that discussion is still relevant, but developments and new points brought to my attention since have changed my view.
At this point, while there is still legal uncertainty, my view is that the balance of factors supports the ability of employers (or states) to require EUA vaccines. Courts vary, but my current assessment is that most courts would be inclined to uphold an employer mandate for an EUA COVID-19 vaccine.