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Some Utah religions refuse to grant vaccine exemptions

Posted at 3:37 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 19:49:23-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Some of Utah's largest faith groups are refusing to grant COVID-19 vaccine exemptions.

READ: Utah's legislature may block government COVID vaccine mandates

In statements to FOX 13, the faith organizations have said they have told clergy and their members it will not be allowed. Utah law allows people to seek a vaccine exemption citing religious, medical or personal reasons.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the dominant faith in Utah, will not grant a vaccine exemption to anyone. A spokesman for the faith confirmed the stance to FOX 13, referring to the Church Handbook which declares that "vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination."

The handbook, which serves as a guide of Church policies, said ultimately individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.

"If members have concerns, they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost," the Church Handbook said. "Prospective missionaries who have not been vaccinated will likely be limited to assignments in their home country."

Bishop Oscar Solis of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City sent a memo to every priest in Utah.

"I ask our priests NOT to grant religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine," he said in the opening line.

The memo cites Pope Francis, Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Jose Gomez as authorities and urges all parishes to decline any request for a vaccine exemption letter.

"Our faith in God, love for one another and collective efforts are essential in providing a safe, healthy, and Christian environment in our parishes, missions, schools and our society," Bishop Solis wrote.

The Episcopal Diocese of Utah also said it would refuse any request for a vaccine exemption.

"The Episcopal Diocese of Utah does not offer a religious exemption (or allow a cleric to offer an exemption) to a member of the diocese to use as a reason not to be vaccinated," Bishop Scott Hayashi said in a statement to FOX 13. "As Bishop, I would not endorse anyone to use being a member of our diocese as a reason not to be vaccinated. The Episcopal Diocese of Utah has vigorously encouraged the vaccination of all who are medically and legally able to receive the vaccine."

Some faith groups have actively advocated for their members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake has worked to promote vaccination among its members. Imam Yassir Butt of Masjid Al-Noor Mosque has appeared in public service announcements released by the Utah Muslim Civic League and the Salt Lake County Health Department endorsing the vaccine.

The league, a support group for Utah Muslims, has even hosted COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

In an interview with FOX 13 on Tuesday where he spoke out against federal vaccine mandates, House Speaker Brad Wilson, said it was a faith's right to refuse to grant vaccine exemptions to its members. He said the religious groups were consistent in their encouragement of vaccination.

"I think that’s what they should do," Speaker Wilson, R-Kaysville, said. "Again, I’m not sure it’s government’s job to even tell religions what they should do in that space."

Read the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City's memo on COVID-19 vaccine exemptions: