Should a Christian apply for a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate?

As a friendly reminder, I am convinced that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a matter of personal conviction and discernment, not of right vs. wrong or good vs. evil. Do balanced and thorough research and speak to medical experts whom you trust. Ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). Whatever you decide, do it in faith (Romans 14:23). Show grace to, and live peacefully with, those who come to a different decision than you (Romans 12:18; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 4:6; James 1:19).

I am increasingly hearing from pastors, including my own, that they are receiving requests for religious exemption letters for the COVID-19 vaccine. Now that the government and many employers are mandating more people to get vaccinated, the choice has significant consequences. It is one thing to decide not to get vaccinated and only to have to face some scorn. It is another thing entirely to decide not to get vaccinated and then face the loss of employment, the inability to travel internationally, and/or other limitations.

In other words, things just got real.

To varying degrees, those mandating COVID-19 vaccinations are allowing people to apply for an exemption. By far, the two most common are health exemptions and religious exemptions. A health exemption is given when a vaccine would be a significant risk for a person, i.e., the likelihood of a severe allergic reaction. A religious exemption is given when a person claims the vaccine violates his/her deeply held religious convictions. Sometimes a supporting letter from a person’s religious leader (pastor, priest, clergy, rabbi, etc.) is required to apply for a religious exemption.

We’ve received quite a few questions about religious vaccine exemptions. Sadly, many of the arguments sound far more like excuses than legitimate religious objections.

The only valid religious exemptions I can think of are: (1) the fact that all of the COVID-19 vaccines were tested on cell lines developed in part from fetal tissue from an abortion (see (, (2) the long-term effects of the vaccines are unknown and therefore Christians should not subject their bodies to the risks (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:23), (3) you believe the COVID-19 vaccine is the mark of the beast (While I definitely do not agree, if you think the COVID-19 vaccine is the mark of the beast, you absolutely should not get it.)

If any of those is truly your reason for wanting to be exempt from the vaccination mandate, by all means, apply for a religious exemption. The problem is, from what I have been hearing, those are not usually the true reasons people want a religious exemption. Sadly, many people are using the religious exemption application as a smokescreen for a non-religious objection. Essentially, some people are lying about their true motivations.

If you want a religious exemption because you believe the election was stolen from Trump, or because you believe COVID-19 is a myth, or because you believe one or more of the many conspiracy theories out there, or because you simply don’t want to get the vaccine—those are not legitimate religious reasons for an exemption to the vaccine mandate.

I will firmly support your right to refuse to get the vaccine. I do not believe vaccines should be mandated. At the same time, I do not see any explicitly biblical reason to deny the government the authority to mandate a vaccine and/or punish those who refuse the mandate (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). As a citizen of the United States of America, however, I do not believe the vaccine mandates are constitutional, and I hope they will be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Again, I will defend your right to refuse the vaccine. I will not, however, defend you lying about your motives in order to get a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate.

If your reason(s) for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are truly based on your faith in Christ and your understanding of Scripture, by all means, apply for, even fight for, a religious exemption. I truly hope you are granted an exemption.

If you are lying about your true motives for wanting a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, may I remind you of a few scriptures?

Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness…”

Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to Him…a lying tongue…a false witness who breathes out lies…”

Colossians 3:9, “Do not lie to one another…”

Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor…”

S. Michael Houdmann

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Should a Christian apply for a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate?