In the national debate over immunizing children, much has been said about “religious objections” to vaccines claimed by parents. Finding a religion whose tenets object to the practice, however, is difficult.
The number of students receiving vaccination exemptions for any reason is relatively small, the Federal Centers for Disease Control reported. Surveying the 2012-13 school year, the agency reported, “an estimated 91,453 exemptions were reported among a total estimated population of 4,242,558 kindergartners, roughly 2 percent of the nation’s newest students.
But many of these exemptions, the CDC reports, are for philosophical reasons. California, for example, reported 14,921 philosophical exemptions in 2012 and zero religious ones, while Illinois reported 8,082 religious exemptions and none on philosophical grounds.
And while the question of personal objections to vaccinations remains a hot topic, one aspect seems to be indisputable: No major religion explicitly objects to immunization. The Deseret News identified one faith, with approximately 12,000 members, that has a tenet explicitly rejecting injections or vaccines of any kind.
But the world’s major faiths — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam — have no explicit prohibitions against oral or injected vaccines. At times, some followers or preachers within a given religion or sect may have spoken against vaccination, but researcher John D. Grabenstein of Merck Vaccines, writing in the scientific journal Vaccine in April 2013, could find no sustained teaching against the practice in any major faith community.
In fact, Grabenstein wrote, “multiple religious doctrines or imperatives call for preservation of life, caring for others, and duty to community (e.g., parent to child, neighbors to each other).”
In an interview, Grabenstein said many religious objections were “about safety concerns, not about theology, (even though) people who went to a church, or mosque or synagogue, said ‘I’m not going to get a vaccine because of my religion.'”
Mark S. Movsesian, a law professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, who specializes in religious liberty issues, agrees.
“The people who are claiming these exemptions, it’s not religious exemption, but ‘personal belief,'” he said. “My impression is, that’s what most of the objection is about.”
Writing on the website for First Things magazine, Movsesian also denied that conscience exemptions could be blamed on the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, he noted, the Hobby Lobby majority opinion specifically excluded vaccines from such conscience protections.
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