This week’s headlines – “Under siege, hospitals plead with Mainers: Get vaccinated” (Aug. 27, Page A1); “Court’s shift to the right could affect challenge to vaccine mandate” (Aug. 27, Page A1); “Episcopal bishop requires all Maine clergy, staff to get vaccine” (Aug. 24), and Bill Nemitz’s excellent column Friday – highlight the compelling urgency for Maine’s faith communities to speak up about the moral mandate we have to get the vaccine as the way to love both God and neighbor and end the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019 and 2020, just before the pandemic broke out, the Maine Council of Churches (representing seven Protestant denominations with 55,000 members in Maine) spoke publicly in favor of ending the religious exemption from vaccines for schoolchildren, and the Legislature and vast majority of Maine voters concurred. And today, we stand firm in rejecting religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.

This is not a matter of so-called “religious liberty,” as some have argued. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in 1941 (eight decades ago!), “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community … to communicable disease,” a position Justice Antonin Scalia affirmed in 1990.

More importantly, this is a matter of faith-based compassion and justice. The Maine Council of Churches is rooted in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, where the moral imperative is clear: Be mindful of and protect your neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. The way to do that in the midst of this crisis is also clear: Get vaccinated.

Rev. Jane Field
executive director, Maine Council of Churches

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