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What is a Religious Exemption for Vaccines?

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The National National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) states the following regarding Religious Exemptions for vaccines:   


The constitutional right to have and exercise personal religious beliefs, whether you are of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other faith, can be defended. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son to demonstrate his faith. Although Abraham is willing, God does not force Abraham to sacrifice his son. In fact, God makes it clear that human sacrifice to demonstrate allegiance is not appropriate. Constitutionally, Americans have an expectation that their religious beliefs will be respected and that government will not pass laws that obstruct the exercise of this most fundamental of freedoms.


If you exercise your right to religious exemption to vaccination, you must be prepared to defend it, and explain your religious or spiritual beliefs in your own words. Due to differences in state laws and the personal nature of a religious or spiritual belief, the NVIC does not recommend or provide a prewritten statement to use an example for filing a religious exemption.


The religious exemption is intended for people who hold a sincere religious belief opposing vaccination to the extent that if the state forced vaccination, it would be an infringement on their constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs. A state must have a "compelling State interest" before this right can be taken away. Limiting the spread of serious communicable diseases has been defined as a "compelling State interest" in court cases after the 1905 U.S. Supreme Court decision Jacobson v. Massachusetts affirmed the right of states to mandate smallpox vaccine. In a number of state court cases setting precedent on the issue of vaccine mandates, the freedom to act according to one’s religious beliefs is subject to reasonable regulation, if exercise of personal religious beliefs substantially threatens the welfare of society as a whole. 


State requirements for religious exemption can vary widely state to state and below are examples of how religious exemption may be defined in your state and what may be required to obtain a religious exemption to vaccination:

· The exemption’s definition may be broadly defined to include philosophical, personal or conscientiously held beliefs not necessarily tied to an organized religion.

· Membership in an organized religion that has written tenets prohibiting invasive medical procedures such as vaccination. However, this kind of language has been ruled unconstitutional when it has been challenged in State Supreme Courts.

· A signed affidavit from your pastor or spiritual advisor from the church you attend.

· Notarization of your signature on a religious exemption statement attesting to your sincerely held religious beliefs about vaccination.


[As of 2019, all U.S. states allow a religious exemption to vaccination except California, Mississippi, West Virginia, Maine, and New York. However, the religious exemption is being threatened in many more states.] Prior to registering your child for school, you should check your state law to verify what proof is needed if you intend to file an exemption for sincerely held religious or spiritual beliefs. 

If you belong to a church, consider educating the head of your local church about the sincerity of your personal religious beliefs regarding vaccination. You may be able to obtain a letter from your pastor, priest, rabbi or other spiritual counselor affirming the sincerity of your religious beliefs and file it along with any statement you may be required to write explaining your religious or spiritually held beliefs about vaccination. 


For more info on exemptions visit: NVIC