Latter-day Saint leaders in California have been told not to sign “religious exemption” forms for anti-vax members who want to dodge vaccination mandates by citing their faith.
The issue has arisen in that state because it now requires vaccines for health care workers, teachers and others.
Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have asked their lay bishops to support their applications to receive religious waivers from their employers.
“No church official can sign any kind of document supporting the notion that church doctrine/teaching is opposed to vaccination or that the church is opposed to vaccination mandates,” reads a letter sent to all bishops and stake (regional) presidents from the faith’s Area Presidency. “As to the former, the opposite is true [the church not only supports but also encourages vaccination]; as to the latter, the Brethren [top officials] have not taken a position.”
In some instances, the letter adds, “signing such documents could even be perjury.”
Of course, the Utah-based faith does have an “important doctrine about agency,” it says, “but that alone does not provide a religious basis for disobeying the law or demanding special exemptions from it.”
Assertions that belief in agency provide “a valid religious objection” to government mandates, the letter says, “have never been supported by the church.”
The LDS Church did not respond to a question about the prohibition on supporting religious exemptions churchwide or in California.
From the beginning of the global pandemic, top Latter-day Saint leaders have gone to great lengths to support public health officials in the battle against COVID-19.
They suspended weekly worship services in March 2020 and closed all 160-plus temples. They urged members to put on masks and social distance. They switched to all-virtual General Conferences. In written guidelines, on social media and from the pulpit, when vaccines were available, they encouraged members to get them — showing photos of themselves getting the shots.
Last month, the governing First Presidency issued its strongest statement yet, urging members to wear masks “in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible” and to “be vaccinated.”
They assured believers that the available vaccines are “safe and effective.”
Church President Russell M. Nelson, a former heart surgeon who turned 97 Thursday, and his two counselors advised members to “follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”
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The statement seemed to move some in the 16.6 million-member church, but not all.
Thousands of Latter-day Saints opposed to the vaccines, however, complained about the First Presidency statement on the church’s Facebook page.
It is unclear how many of them might be seeking a religious exemption from state or federal mandates.