Do churches have vaccination mandates?
The exemptions – sometimes offered at a price – have dominated headlines about how religion is responding to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But these stories have eclipsed how other places of worship take the opposite approach: demanding that worshipers get vaccinated.
Nationally, a number of churches and synagogues are implementing vaccination mandates. Some require not only that the clergy and staff be vaccinated, but even the faithful. Grace Cathedral, an episcopal church in San Francisco, Calif., Enforces such a comprehensive mandate – with bailiffs who will politely refuse those without proof of vaccination.
“It is not customary to check vaccinations when people come to church,” admitted The Right Reverend Malcolm Young, Dean of Grace Cathedral. “We choose health over accepted traditions. ”
In a September 12 sermon, Reverend Young pointed out that every other day, COVID-19 kills more than the number killed on September 11. “Churches,” he continued, “need to take stronger positions on immunization. ”
Places of worship, he told Deseret News, “must lead by example and treat this problem as a social problem.”
Reverend Young called on religious leaders to take a strong stand in favor of immunization. “The main thing I want to impress about other clergy is how important it is to take action. We are all accomplices, ”he said. “Scientists have done an amazing job using their God given intellect to make these vaccines and now we have to work to make sure we all get vaccinated. ”
The Reverend explained that several months ago he and others at Grace Cathedral began discussing vaccination mandates for church workers. But after hearing many worshipers say they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to church alongside unvaccinated worshipers, the decision was made to expand the mandate to anyone wishing to attend services. .
“What we were doing before (the term) was de facto we didn’t let people in because they were concerned about their health or because they were under 12,” said Rev. Young. . “You have to choose: are you going to leave out the people whose health is compromised or who are children or are you going to respond to the people who propagate conspiracy theories? “
He added, however, that not all church members were happy with the decision. “It’s a big enough congregation that we have a few people who don’t agree with it,” he said.
However, the Reverend said the harshest criticism came not from members of his own herd but rather from a right-wing radio host in the UK. “If you want people to be mad at you, it’s good to have them far away,” he joked.
In the beginning, the implementation of the vaccination mandate was difficult, in part because the establishment organized events that were attended by hundreds of people. Initially, they relied on church staff and volunteers to check immunization cards. Then they had to hire people to help them.
Grace Cathedral has therefore set up a “Grace Pass”, an online form which requires users to upload a photo of the vaccination record. Now, those with a Grace Pass are racing off – Reverend Young has compared it to the TSA pre-check line at the airport – leaving most ushers free to deal only with visitors who don’t. not attend church one day regularly.
The resources needed to enforce vaccine mandates have been a factor that has prevented other religious institutions from implementing such requirements.
One of the questions the Union for Reform Judaism asks congregations to consider goes beyond resources: “Can I apply this policy?” Said Amy Asin, Union for Reform Judaism vice-president and director of the Strengthening Congregations.
“What will happen if I have a vaccination warrant and someone walks up and doesn’t have a vaccination card?” Who is going to stand at the door? It’s politically charged and it’s a place where people go to seek solace – you don’t want to keep them out, ”she said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week instituted a temple mask mandate. However, President Russell M. Nelson urged members to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church has not implemented vaccination mandates, but Pope Francis calls on Catholics to be vaccinated, noting that it is “an act of love.”
Some religious leaders felt that they did not need to implement a vaccination mandate because most of their congregation is vaccinated.
Asin estimated that nationally about 50% of Reformed Jewish congregations strongly urge the unvaccinated to stay home and broadcast services live, while the other half have implemented immunization mandates. . But she also acknowledged that because American Jews have the highest vaccination acceptance rates of any religious group in the country, whether mandated or not, Jews are likely to be vaccinated.
While Boston’s Old South Church – a congregation of the United Church of Christ – made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for clergy and staff, they did not extend the mandate of vaccines to worshipers for several reasons.
“First, we believe our congregation, our members, are highly immunized,” said Reverend Nancy Taylor. “Second, the pandemic has taken its toll on our volunteer bailiffs. … We are recruiting and training new bailiffs, but our bench is exhausted. Third, we have visitors every Sunday – tourists, curious, homeless – and we don’t want to put our volunteer ushers in the position of guardians. We have read too many stories about anti-vaccines attacking those who ask to see proof of vaccination. ”
In Maine, the Rt. Reverend Thomas Brown, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, declared a mandate for vaccination for the clergy and staff of the diocese, explaining that he stopped there because his authority did not extend not to the laity.
He added, however, that two of the churches he oversees require worshipers to present proof of vaccination.
Bishop Brown noted that each congregation must weigh the decision of whether or not to implement a vaccination mandate and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In some places, articulating a mandate could run counter to the way that church exercises its ministry, particularly if it is “in dialogue with Christian conservatives,” he said, a group that typically has lower vaccination rates, although that seems to be changing.
He also said churches need to weigh how they want to enforce immunization mandates. Do they want to require proof of vaccination or do they want to use an honor system? “There is something about trust,” he reflects.