Religious Liberty and Religious Leadership in the Vaccine Wars

The Supreme Court recently struck down a federal “test-or-vaccine” mandate on businesses with more than 100 employees. Despite this ruling, many Americans must still receive a COVID-19 vaccine before resuming in-person work. Some have taken to exploring religious exemptions to vaccine requirements; as Mansee Khurana explains, this has at times posed a problem for religious leaders:

Religious exemptions from vaccines are currently allowed in 44 states and Washington, DC, and they typically require an employer to provide reasonable accommodation for “sincerely held” religious beliefs. But no objective test determines whether an individual’s request is genuine, which leaves the judgment entirely up to companies. Given the value that a co-sign from a religious leader can provide, I asked Brian Strauss, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, a synagogue in Houston, about his approach to talking with people looking to obtain an exemption. . . . Avoiding the vaccines, Strauss contends, contradicts Jewish tradition.

Strauss’s position echoes the attitude that several states have adopted. Personal-belief exemptions in the United States were formalized in the 1960s, after some constituents pressured state legislatures to pass them in response to compulsory-polio-vaccine laws. After a measles outbreak in California in the winter of 2015, the state banned faith-based exemptions. Five more states—including New York, Mississippi, and Connecticut—have disallowed them as well.

Though many clergy are pro-vaccine, they often feel paralyzed or confused talking with congregants about their own stances, according to Curtis Chang, a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School. . . . While about 90 percent of evangelical faith leaders say they would encourage others to get inoculated, less than half of evangelical congregants are in favor of it.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: American Religion, Coronavirus, Freedom of Religion, Medicine

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter