Concern for vaccines and their negative effects has grown in recent years. That concern has translated into action: parents refusing vaccines for their children for religious or health reasons (or both). Christianity Today notes that “Vaccination rates are so low in some states, some wonder if we’ll lose herd immunity—the protection given to a population when so many people are vaccinated that a disease can’t spread, even if the vaccine isn’t effective for everyone.”
The issue of vaccinations raises serious questions for church leaders, both in terms of personal faith and risk or liability. Church leaders must live out their Christian convictions, even as those relate to medical issues. At the same time, church leaders have a very serious obligation to safeguard the physical health of their congregations and the wellbeing of their ministries. Are the two at odds?
We don’t think so. In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Dr. Matthew Loftus, who was himself almost killed from the side effects of a vaccination taken for a medical missions trip, writes,
Like all parents—including, of course, those who refuse vaccines—I want what’s best for my children. As I have thought about my own story and studied vaccines, I’ve grown confident in this: The benefits of vaccines are far too great for us to refuse, and the risk of refusing them extends far beyond our own families. This is not just a medical issue, but an issue that touches on our faith and our public witness.
Dr. Loftus’s article, “Why Christians of All People Should Get Their Vaccines,” goes a long way in empathizing with the many objections to vaccinations and in answering both faith and medical objections at length. And he makes a strong case that vaccinating ourselves—especially our children—is not only the healthier option, but the more faith-filled one.
On the practical and risk management side, Church Law and Tax editorial advisor Lisa Runquist tackles the issue of how church leaders should handle vaccination policy in religious schools and children’s ministries. Lisa’s in-depth analysis explains the valid legal exemptions for opting out of vaccinations, how to set a vaccination policy for your ministry, and when the state is allowed to step in to impose vaccinations. She writes,
The law allowing compulsory vaccination is well established. Over a century ago, at a time when smallpox was pervasive, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that it is within the police power of each state to enact a compulsory vaccination law, and that it is up to the legislature, rather than the courts, to determine whether vaccination is the best mode for the protection of public health and public safety. The fact that some may be injured by the vaccine is not sufficient to limit this power according to that ruling…
Runquist’s piece, “Churches, Schools, and the Unvaccinated Movement,” makes a powerful case that regardless of church leaders’ personal and/or religious beliefs regarding vaccines, churches need to take action now by setting a vaccination policy. She notes that in setting such a policy, churches can make sure that they’re operating within their beliefs while also complying with state law (and thus avoiding liability).
We pray both these pieces will enrich, inform, and prepare you to lead with confidence and integrity in your ministry. And we pray this information on vaccinations will embolden you to protect “the least of these”—our children.
This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."
Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.