September 1, 2021
In light of recent refusals of governmental institutions to provide religious exemptions from mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, the Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) would like to clarify the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the civil right to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine for religious and conscience reasons. The personal healthcare decision of whether to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is a decision inherently impacting the life, death, and overall health of the person, which for many is guided by their faith. Therefore, this decision is a vital expression of the First Amendment freedom to religious liberty and conscience rights. In addition, of crucial note, it is not the function of any government to determine the authenticity or substance of one’s religious beliefs. The Supreme Court of the United States has unequivocally stated: “The guarantee of free exercise is not limited to beliefs which are shared by all of the members of a religious sect” (Thomas v. Review Bd., Ind. Empl. Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 708 (1981)).
In exercising one’s conscience, having looked at the relevant facts and circumstances consistent with one’s faith, if one determines that the risks, moral and medical, of taking a particular COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the benefits, one has a right to follow one’s conscience not to take that vaccine. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a sure norm for the teaching of the Catholic faith, affirms: “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1790).
With respect to Church guidance, while the Church has affirmed that taking the COVID-19 vaccine can be an exercise of charity, the Church has never said or even implied that it is morally justifiable to coerce anyone to take a COVID-19 vaccine. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose teachings are approved by Pope Francis, has stated: “[P]ractical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary” (Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines (21 December 2020) (vatican.va).