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Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from vaccinations

Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from vaccinations August 23, 2021

By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Ironies never cease.

Cardinal Raymond Burke  — an outspoken right-winger and anti-vaxxer who initially warned that microchips were being implanted via Covid-19 vaccinations and subsequently came down with the virus — is out of intensive care and off the ventilator. Burke had sanctimoniously pronounced that the best weapon to fight the virus was “Jesus Christ,” who actually seemed conspicuously absent in Burke’s case.

Yet who is being credited with Burke’s recovery? Who else but Jesus Christ (or rather, his father, who are, after all, one and the same):

“His family asks that we continue those prayers for his full and speedy recovery, and they are grateful to God for the exceptional medical care the cardinal has received from the dedicated doctors and nurses who continue to assist him” [emphasis added], said an inadvertently ironic statement by Rev. Paul N. Check, executive director of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis.

Notice that it is not the medical staff being thanked, but God. With true believers, all roads lead back to God. God gets only the credit, never the blame. And, unfortunately, the true believers are everywhere trying to thwart Covid-19 mitigation efforts and the science involved in curbing a pandemic.

“Across the U.S., religious figures, doctors, public officials and other community leaders are trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 precautions,” reports Associated Press. Covid vaccine mandates, expected to increase now that the Food and Drug Administration has officially approved the Pfizer vaccine, are also expected to trigger a wave of requests for “religious exemptions.”

Already, Louisiana’s top law-enforcement officer has promoted strategies for students to get out of mask mandates or possible school vaccine requirements by claiming a religious exemption. As Louisiana experienced the largest growth in Covid-19 cases of any state and hospitalizations there hit an all-time high, Attorney General Jeff Landry “helpfully” sent an email to employees advising: “Louisiana law offers broad and robust protections for students’ and parents’ religious and philosophical objections to certain state public health policies.” The school board in Spring Hill, Kan., allows any parent to claim a mental or medical exemption, bypassing a physician order. The Colorado Catholic Conference published online instructions for Catholics seeking religious exemptions. ​​

A California megachurch pastor is offering “religious exemptions” to the public at large. Pastor Greg Fairrington of Rocklin has issued at least 3,000 religious exemptions to cover for individuals resisting vaccine mandates, such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s laudable compulsory vaccine order for state employees. Says Fairrington, “We stand for freedom. Freedom of religion.”

Is this what “freedom of religion” now stands for? Ignoring your duty as a citizen to keep from spreading a pandemic? And ignoring the science? If religion did not hold the exalted spot it does in the United States, our nation would quite certainly not be in this pickle. If the United States had a more sophisticated population, where science and basic biology — such as how vaccines work and how viruses that are not checked by vaccines evolve — were understood and respected, we’d have bypassed this latest wave. Instead, as multitudes around the world are desperately seeking vaccinations due to the global shortage, many ungrateful Americans turn up their noses at America’s stockpile of vaccinations. We would have herd immunity by now had those eligible to be vaccinated for Covid-19 rolled up their sleeves.

Without religion’s stronghold on our society, we would not see so many spineless public officials at all levels of government pussyfooting around with weak inducements instead of vaccine mandates. A passel of religious officials and archconservative legislatures are infamously and despicably outlawing masking in public schools or banning any vaccination mandates by employees. Only 12 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico require masks in all schools. Twenty-three have no mask mandate, giving local districts options to mandate masks, and nine states have outright prohibited schools from mandating masks: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Utah. At least eight states have enacted laws to prohibit various Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

Without public officials kowtowing to ignorance and fundamentalism, we would see mayors around the country, instead of simply reissuing masking mandates, also incentivizing the silver bullet — Covid-19 vaccinations. They would be following the lead of New York City, San Francisco, France and Italy by requiring citizens to show proof of vaccination in order to enter nonessential places of public accommodation, such as indoor restaurants. That restriction works. Unfortunately, U.S. public officials are ever deferential to the loudest religious objections to rational public policy, and, unfortunately, protesters at school board meetings are especially inflamed. Were it not for the anti-vaxxers, the FDA would probably be moving faster to approve vaccines for those under 12 — and what a huge relief that would be for parents and society.

The Cardinal Burkes of the world notwithstanding, it is likely that with full FDA approval removing the excuse against taking an “experimental” vaccine claimed by many vaccine-hesitant, our country can move full steam ahead to get shots in more arms. There will be no excuse not to mandate vaccinations to attend public schools, for employment, for travel. And no more excuses for reason not to prevail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annie Laurie Gaylor, a third-generation freethinker, co-founded FFRF with her mother Anne Gaylor as a college student in 1976. She served as editor of Freethought Today, FFRF’s newspaper, from 1985 to 2009. Her book, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published by FFRF in 1981, is in its 4th printing. In 1988, FFRF published Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 anthology, Women Without Superstition: ‘No Gods, No Masters,’ is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. She has been plaintiff in or overseen many state/church lawsuits and actions by FFRF. Annie Laurie has appeared on a variety of TV news shows, including “Oprah,” “O’Reilly,” “Good Morning America,” Univision, CNN and FOX news segments, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight. Photo of Annie Laurie by Chris Line.
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