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.

Read more at Atlantic

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

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus