Religious exemptions from vaccination warrants: new survey explores support

About half of Americans say COVID-19 vaccine mandates should include religious exemptions. But some of these same adults view vaccine refusals with suspicion.

This is one of the main lessons of a new survey on faith and immunization released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core. Researchers have found that many people have complex – and sometimes conflicting – beliefs about the role of religion in the COVID-19 crisis.

Overall, very few American adults see a tension between supporting the vaccination and living their faith. In fact, nearly 6 in 10 people say getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a way of obeying the religious call to love your neighbors, the survey found.

However, many Americans seem to recognize that some people do not share these views. Fifty-one percent think vaccination warrants should allow religious exemptions.

“The share of Americans in favor of granting exemptions (today) is similar to the share recorded in June (52%) and slightly lower than the share recorded in March, when 56% of Americans favored them,” the researchers noted.

Members of some faith groups and political parties are more in favor of religious exemptions than others. For example, nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) support granting exemptions to religious objectors, compared with just one-third of Democrats (33%).

Among religious groups, White Evangelical Protestants (76%) and Latter-day Saints (66%) stand out for their support for religious exemptions. Adults not affiliated with the religion, Jews and other non-Christians were most likely to oppose it.

Researchers also asked what people thought of using religious exemptions and were surprised at what they found: 6 in 10 Americans say there is no valid religious reason for refusing vaccines COVID-19 and almost the same proportion (59%) say religious exemption policies are being abused.

In other words, the survey showed that the number of Americans who are skeptical of religious objectors is greater than the number who favor offering religious exemptions to immunization warrants. These findings help explain why the conflict over vaccine mandates is so complicated, the researchers noted.

Despite concerns about how religious exemptions are being used, many Americans believe religious objectors shouldn’t have to work too hard to prove their concerns are legitimate.

Almost 40% of American adults agree that “anyone who says vaccines go against their religious beliefs should be granted an exemption.” Slightly higher shares (around 50%) were in favor of employers requesting a letter from a religious leader or proof of refusal of previous vaccines.

A handful of states have passed laws in recent weeks aimed at making it easier to obtain religious exemption to COVID-19 vaccine warrants, as the Deseret News recently reported.

The new survey found that just under half of Americans (44%) are currently covered by workplace vaccination requirements. About a third of unvaccinated adults say they are considering seeking a religious exemption or have already requested one.

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