Supreme Court blocks religious vaccine exemption

The US Supreme Court yesterday refused to grant an injunction to stop the implementation of Maine’s requirement that nearly all health workers be vaccinated or lose their jobs.

Maine requires nearly all health care workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19. It argues that this requirement is necessary because those workers are unusually likely to interact with patients who are vulnerable to the disease, and because the state’s health care system could potentially be disabled if too many health care workers are infected. The state does exempt a very narrow slice of health care workers, however: those who risk adverse health consequences if they are vaccinated, such as people with serious allergies to the vaccine.

Some medical personnel had asked that they be exempted because of their faith since they claimed that abortion-related materials was used in the vaccines. They argued that if exemptions can be granted for health-related reasons, then they should also be granted for religious reasons.

This particular abortion-related religious exemption argument has been advanced before but even the Catholic church says that it should not be an issue.

Staver said the workers object to the vaccines because of the way that they were either “developed, researched, tested, produced or otherwise developmentally associated with fetal cell lines that originated in elective abortions.”

It is an argument that has been made before. The Catholic Church and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s highest doctrinal authority, have wrestled with the moral permissibility of receiving Covid-19 vaccines because of their distant relation to fetal cell lines developed from abortions in the 1970s and 1980s.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were developed using aborted cell lines, though the final product does not contain fetal cells. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not manufactured from fetal cell lines and the final product does not contain fetal cells, although their testing used these cell lines.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a note approved by Pope Francis that receiving the shot was morally permitted. “It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” the note said.

Their request for an injunction pending a full review of the case was denied by a 6-3 vote. You can read the short order and the long dissent here.


  1. Holms says

    (“They argued that if exemptions can be granted for health-related reasons, then they should also be granted for medical reasons.” Was that perhaps intended to be “…also be granted for religious reasons.” ?)

    It is a genuine relief that the US supreme court can see sense on something, anything, but especially on a matter of that damned ‘religious exemption’ bullshit.

    [You are right. I have corrected it. Thanks! -- Mano]

  2. JM says

    If it was just a matter of personal religion I believe the Supreme court would rule in favor of those that want an exemption. Even this very sensible and minimal mandate that medical personal must be vaccinated got 3 dissents. What I think has happened between the start of the pandemic, when the court made a couple of rulings that allowed for wide religious exemption, and now is that some of the judges have realized that this isn’t a temporary situation and it isn’t a matter of personal preference. Covid vaccination is probably going on the list of stuff that everybody should get every so often permanently and that stopping the pandemic is a matter of having a high enough percent of the general population vaccinated and keeping it that way.

  3. John Morales says

    They argued that if exemptions can be granted for health-related reasons, then they should also be granted for religious reasons.

    If the putative principle that any exemption granted for any secular reason entails that such exemptions must also be granted for religious objection had been upheld, well…

    Again, I note how religion is privileged over any other personal beliefs.

  4. JM says

    @3 blf: I’m aware of that. The thing is Jacobson v. Massachusetts is not specifically about vaccines, it is about the ability of states to enforce health mandates on the population. In the earlier cases of this pandemic the Supreme Court carved out wide religious exemptions but in this case they reversed course.

  5. Katydid says

    The implications are interesting. Right now, in my career field (not medicine), there are people carrying on like overstimulated toddlers. These folks have had every shot there is, but now they’re insisting their religion (Christian, in case you were wondering) doesn’t allow them to get the Covid shot because shut up that’s why.

  6. dean56 says

    It isn’t at all clear why religious exemptions should be a thing at all — none of the “leaders” of the big religions say there is such a reason for refusing the vaccine: it’s just the low-level extremists who claim it.

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