RALEIGH, N.C. — More employers and organizations are implementing COVID-19 vaccination requirements, which brings up the topic of medical and religious exemptions. But what is a religious exemption, and what do faith leaders have to say on the topic?


What You Need To Know

  • A religious exemption from a vaccine involves a “sincerely held religious belief”
  • A common reason for that exemption is when fetal cells are use to research, test or produce vaccines
  • One rabbi and pastor in Raleigh agree that the benefits of the vaccines outweigh other concerns


The United States government says a “sincerely held religious belief” qualifies for a religious exemption, but it ultimately comes down to your own personal beliefs. A common reason for a religious exemption is when fetal cells are used in research, testing or production of vaccines.

While everyone’s views are different, one rabbi and pastor in Raleigh agree that the benefits of the vaccines outweigh other concerns.

“We don’t really see a religious exemption for the vaccine. We see a religious obligation,” Pastor Greg Moore, of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, said.

Moore says the COVID-19 vaccine has sparked some new conversations in his church. “We are a large congregation, and so, we have folks who are of course all over the map on any given issue and vaccines are exactly like any other issue,” Moore said.

Rabbi Eric Solomon has heard similar feelings from members of Beth Meyer Synagogue.

“I would say in our own congregation there haven’t been official exemptions, per say. They’ve just been anecdotal. People letting me know or asking my opinion. Some of those people have chosen not to come to services or public events out of respect,” Solomon said.

When it comes to religious exemptions, do their teachings or sacred texts offer reasons not to get vaccinated, specifically when it comes to the scientific use of fetal cells?

“Will accessing that science influence people to do harm in the future? However you want to define ‘doing harm.’ The answer for us is no. Accessing those stem cells is actually going to protect us and help us to do no harm, do good and to be able to attend to the ordinances of God,” Moore said.

Solomon says choosing life is the highest commitment for Jews, and in Judaism, life starts outside the womb.

“While it should not be taken lightly, we do not have an issue with fetal cells. In fact, we see that as an opportunity to elongate life,” Solomon said.

A common thread through many religions is caring for others. “Love your neighbor, that mitzvah or that commandment means I need to be worried not only about my health but also my effect on others. That’s what this crisis has really brought to the core spiritually. Not just what happens to me but what’s my obligation to others in society,” Solomon said. “Those that are not vaccinated, as far as I’m concerned, are certainly committing potentially the sin of damaging themselves but they’re definitely potentially committing the sin of hurting others.”

“A religious exemption seems to be a grand performance in individualism as opposed to participation in community,” Moore said.

The concept of being part of something larger than yourself is something Moore believes can shed light on what really exempts someone from getting vaccinated. “Rather than pondering what religious exemption might allow me not to do,” Moore said, “I would want people of all faith who are charged with caring for their neighbor, to wonder what religious obligation are they called to do?”

As for the use of fetal cell lines in vaccines, according to the North Dakota Health Department, they were developed decades ago in a laboratory and used to develop and test the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

As for Johnson & Johnson, fetal cell lines were used in the production of that vaccine. However, the vaccines themselves do not contain any fetal cells.

“A vaccine with over 90% efficacy is a modern-day miracle. Sometimes we find it hard to trust new miracles, because we have been let down before. But now, we have a safe, effective and life-saving miracle on our hands. Anyone who refuses to take the vaccine is choosing stubbornness over life and choosing a longer pandemic for everyone,” Pastor Daniel Pugh, of Christ the King Cary, said.

The following statement is available on the Diocese of Raleigh’s website, “Bishop Luis believes that getting any available COVID-19 vaccine should be viewed as an act of charity as together we seek to help end the pandemic, protect our vulnerable neighbors and keep our communities healthy. He asks the faithful of Eastern North Carolina to continue to take measures to protect their health and the health of their neighbors, including getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible.”