Vaccine exemptions — grounds on which an adult person, or the parents or guardians of a minor child can refuse vaccination without being barred from school entry or certain job opportunities — have always existed in the United States.
All states allow medical exemptions — documents that detail that a person cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. Nearly all states also have legal frameworks that allow people to object to vaccines on religious or philosophical (sometimes called “personal beliefs”) grounds.
COVID-19 has altered this landscape slightly. How can you write a religious exemption for vaccines, and what do state laws say on the matter?
What Does The Law Say About COVID-19 Vaccinations Exemptions?
Larger employers are increasingly requiring their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to receive the recommended boosters, in line with OSHA requirements. This is true in all states and in DC, and the same mandate applies to all Federal employees.
The situation is different for school entry. At present (2022), only two states require students to present vaccine certificates to attend, and those are California and Louisiana. In other states, proof of vaccination may, however, still be required for children to be able to attend sports and other extracurricular activities.
As was the case before COVID-19 emerged, it remains possible to gain an exemption on religious grounds, in accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law prohibits discrimination based on grounds that include religion.
Over time, some states have removed this exemption. For instance:
- Connecticut House Bill 6423 eliminates religious vaccine exemptions for children attending grades 12 and lower.
- Colorado Senate Bill 163 makes it challenging to get a religious exemption.
- Maine House Bill 1638 eliminates all religious and philosophical exemptions for school children.
Anyone seeking a religious exemption for COVID-19 or other vaccines is encouraged to familiarize themselves with Federal and state legislature before doing so.
COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements & Exemptions By State
Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is, in some jurisdictions, required not just for schools and workplaces, but also to gain entry into public facilities such as restaurants and cinemas.
Currently, the following states have developed digital frameworks that allow individuals to provide proof of vaccination status, which in turn means that public facilities can ask people to present digital proof before they gain entry:
- New York
Numerous states have passed legislation that actively prohibits proof of vaccination requirements. They include:
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
However, it is important to stress that states, counties, and municipalities across the United States have implemented vaccine requirements for employees. The same holds true for Federal employees. These mandates extend to contractors. Simultaneously, privately-owned companies have the right to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Does this mean that you must be vaccinated if you want to engage in public life? No. Forty-four states leave room for religious exemptions — all, in fact, except the six mentioned above.
What Qualifies As A Religious Exemption?
Believers may oppose vaccines — or certain vaccines — on a number of different grounds. They include:
- The vaccine contains ingredients derived from animals that may not be consumed within a religion. This may range from pork gelatin (Islam, Judaism) to any animal at all (Jainism, Buddhism).
- The vaccine contains other ingredients to which the religion objects, such as aborted fetal cell lines (Catholicism).
- The body is a temple, and it should not be polluted with man-made ingredients.
- More broadly, the believer holds the sincere belief that only the creator should have the power to decide over life and death. Vaccines interfere in God’s will.
Note that your specific faith or denomination does not have to have an official stance against vaccines to apply for a religious exemption. Indeed, it is typically more effective not to mention your specific denomination in your application unless the leadership of the denomination specifically agrees with your deeply-held beliefs. You must, however, explain your beliefs briefly. As you do so, it is important to only talk about your religious beliefs. If you additionally have philosophical or scientific objections, do not mention them in your exemption application at all.
If you are, for example, an observant Jew or Catholic, the most effective approach to getting a COVID-19 vaccine exemption lies in calling upon the creator as your authority. Do not claim that “your religion” prohibits vaccines when religious leaders have made statements encouraging people to get vaccinated; your exemption is based around your personal interpretation of scripture, with which nobody can argue.
How to Request a Religious Exemption
How should you word your religious vaccine exemption request, and what information should be included? Depending on your context, your employer or child’s school may already have vaccine exemption forms available. In this case, you simply have to complete the form. In other cases, an existing form will not be available and you will have to write a letter in which you request a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
Should that be true in your case, it is still helpful to use exemption forms as inspiration, as you decide what kind of information to include.
Next up, we will be taking a look at the form that Federal employees requesting a religious exemption are asked to complete. It is called “REQUEST FOR AN EXCEPTION TO THE COVID-19 VACCINATION” and contains many parts.
- Provide your name, job title, the name of your direct supervisor, contact details, and the date on which you are filing your request.
- You give your employer permission to maintain records detailing your religious beliefs by offering a signature.
- You describe the nature of your religious objection.
- Explain how you would religiously be impacted by receiving a vaccine.
- Describe how long you have held the belief that caused you to request an exemption.
- State whether you have received any other vaccines as an adult, and if so which ones and when. Points 5 and 6 serve to demonstrate a sincerely held religious belief — if you get all other vaccines but object to a COVID-19 vaccine, your application is more likely to be rejected, unless you recently became religious.
- If you do not object to other vaccines, you must explain why the vaccine you are seeking an exemption for is problematic for you; typically based on ingredients.
- Now you can provide further information that you believe may be helpful.
- The final part relates to whether you handle sensitive or classified information, and will not be relevant to most people who are not Federal employees.
If you are not completing an existing vaccine exemption form for COVID-19 vaccination, you may be asked to craft a letter yourself. These letters should ideally remain fairly general.
Take a look at these sample letters requesting exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements:
My sincerely-held religious beliefs as a Christian have led me to conclude, after much prayer, that I cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine. God created me whole, as I am meant to be, and by receiving a vaccine, I would be altering his perfect design. My religion guides me in all my life choices and I would be going against God by receiving this vaccine, which I cannot do.
My religious beliefs stem from God himself and from the Bible. As a Bible-believing Christian, I have a sincerely-held objection to vaccines. He commands us to maintain purity and I cannot inject medication into my body, which is his temple.
As a Buddhist, my beliefs influence everything I do, and according to the Tripitaka doctrine, I cannot allow my body to be infringed on by receiving a vaccine.
In addition to explaining the reasons for which you are seeking a religious exemption, you can cite the relevant law. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you have the right to exercise your religious beliefs without suffering discrimination as a result. Your right to religious freedom is further enshrined in the US Constitution.
You may include scripture if you believe it is relevant.
How Employers Judge Religious Exemption Requests
Employers will want to see evidence that:
- Your belief is indeed religious in nature. If you talk about science, civil liberties, or fears, you will weaken your argument. Therefore, center your exemption application on religious objections and do not introduce additional arguments.
- Your belief is sincere. If you always get flu shots but don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine, and then say that you object to vaccines in general, your exemption may be rejected.
- Your belief cannot be refuted with logic. If you claim that you don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine because it contains (as an entirely random example) pork gelatin when it does not, your application may be rejected.
The form Federal employees complete offers a good look at the steps employers in general may take to gauge the sincerity of a person who applies for a religious exemption. This brief guide in no way constitutes legal advice, which you can seek if you believe it to be necessary, but we will add that this guide is written solely for people who do hold sincere religious beliefs. If you are, for example, concerned about the vaccine’s side effects, are an atheist, and do not want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because you believe that the risks are greater than the benefits, your request may be rejected. This is especially true if you have discussed your beliefs with coworkers. In some cases, your employer will be able to prove your lack of sincerity; particularly if you have sent emails expressing your beliefs, or you have made social media posts.
What is considered a religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccine?
Religious vaccine exemptions are based on religious beliefs. You may object to receiving injections, vaccines, certain ingredients, or any man-made unnatural medications, based on your belief in God and your interpretation of scripture.
How do you claim a religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccine?
Ask your employer’s HR department, or child’s school, whether they have existing forms for you to fill out. If not, write a letter.
Are COVID-19 vaccines required for school?
Only in California and Louisiana.
Why do some religions oppose vaccines?
Most mainstream religions embrace vaccines, but may reject certain vaccines based on ingredients that are not permitted. Some religious followers simply believe that God decides the path of their life, and modern science does not have the right to make life and death decisions — only God has that authority.