During the spring of 1994 a measles outbreak infected 190 people in two counties within Illinois and Missouri. The outbreak was traced back to two specific Christian Science communities where similar outbreaks occurred in 1978, 1980, 1985, and 1989 (“Outbreak”). The Christian Science community is among a number of religiously convicted peoples who generally do not approve of or accept vaccinations (“Cultural”). Their collective refusal poses a significant health risk to society. The CDC has reported that fifty percent of all documented U.S. measles cases in the first half of 1994 could be traced back to persons who did not accept vaccinations (“Outbreak”). Vaccination exemptions can be issued in every state for medical reasons, only twenty states for philosophical reasons, but in 48 states you can be exempt for contradiction of “sincere religious beliefs” (“States”). It is not difficult to understand why children with deficient immune systems should be excluded from the mandate. In contrast, the reasoning behind a religious exemption becomes one of theological debate and some may defend that it remains a private issue. However, when a private conviction affects public safety it becomes a social issue.
Religion is considered by some to be beyond scrutiny. In fact, contained within The First Amendment is the free exercise clause, which has kept “Uncle Sam” from stifling the religious practices of Americans since its inception (“First”). Keeping these religious convictions a free and private matter has always served as an arbitrator in our pluralistic society. That does not mean that the State should never intrude upon one’s personal beliefs and rights to protect the population as a whole. In fact, in 1905 the U.S. Supreme Court set a precedent in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts when they overruled a Cambridge, MA citizen’s refusal of vaccination for smallpox on philosophical grounds, thus limiting his “individual liberties in order to protect the public’s health” (“Cultural”). Philosophical objections to vaccination can be as varied as the people that hold them. One philosophical thread that seems to run through the majority of objectors is a great mistrust of the medical community at large. This distrust is largely the result of misinformation and not understanding or being privy to the facts (“Beginning”). The religious community, on the other hand is loaded with information. The problem is that their information leads them to a different conclusion. With natural exception (“Cultural”), it is not so much that zealots have a mistrust in the medical community it is that they do not trust mankind, at least not to the degree that they trust their omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity.
This trust in the divine and its scriptures leads to a number of arguments as to why one should not have their children vaccinated. In an online article titled “KNOW…Religious Conviction”(on the site know-vaccines) the author(s) preface the argument for religious exemption by stating, “Implicit in our understanding of this message is acceptance that man was created in the image of God and is filled with the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are the temple of God’s Holy Spirit…this tenet forms the basis for religious objection to the practice of vaccination”(“Know”). Megan Helmer argues for a child’s body being sacred when she paraphrases and summarizes several passages of the Bible, “Human blood was to be kept pure under all circumstances and free of contaminants like animal parts and blood” (Helmer) It is often stated that the “Ten Commandments” also make up the guiding principles for Christian life. The first commandment is generally accepted as, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20.3). This verse is sometimes understood to mean that anything that is not submissive to the “Word of God” should not be considered authoritative (Helmer). So with this logic, if the government is not acting within the realm of what christians consider biblical it is not only permissible but imperative that it be rebelled against (Dan 1.8,Acts 5.29). This argument serves as a catch all for the extremist. Another popular defense of religious exemption is the idea that human cells can sometimes be used to create vaccines for children. This is a major sticking point for pro-life supporters especially, which is evidenced by the use of phrases such as “murdering unborn children” and other inflammatory verbiage in reference to the use of fetal embryo cells (Helmer). These and a number of other arguments from the Bible are straightforward. Christians generally believe that God is the giver, healer, and sustainer of life, which starts at conception, and that he governs a child’s immune system and is sovereign over any infectious disease that may ravage their body. Paul A. Offit, MD captures this mindset in his book titled Do You Believe in Magic?, “Because God or the gods caused disease, healers were shamans, witches, and priests, and treatments were prayer, amulets, and sacrifices”(Offit 27).They also generally accept that he is the supreme ruler and must be obeyed for the sake of a clear conscience and pure heart. If a person adheres to this standard of thought it is easy to see how they have arrived at seeing vaccinations for their children as being immoral. However, it is sometimes recognized that much of this argumentation lacks clear lineage to the issue at hand. For example, there is no clear answer to when “life” actually begins, and many Christians believe that even bad government is instituted by God (Rom 13.1-7). When this happens, more obscure objections come from interpretations of ancient imperatives into modern affairs.
The difficulty of interpreting archaic writing such as the Bible is that the context in which it was written is very different from modernity. Sometimes very little is known about the situation for which it was penned. When this is the case, commentators and teachers often fall prey to eisegesis, or inserting meaning into a text that was likely never intended. The following demonstrates a clear case of such eisegesis. Leviticus chapter nineteen verse nine states, “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed”. This is relevant to the debate because according to Horowitz, Franz, and Owen, bovine serum is commonly used in vaccinations, thus when vaccinated you have “sown thy bloodstream with ‘mingled seed’ that not only taxes your immune system further, but may cause the development of cancer cells as well”. The first verse of Luke chapter five is also used to defend this stance. In the same article, Horowitz, Franz, and Owen go on to claim that some vaccines are made using the blood serum from “social drop-outs and drug addicts who were exposed to various infectious agents”. This, they claim, is what was used to make the hepatitis B vaccine and given to gay men in 1974 and this is what started the AIDS pandemic. No one wants to inject the serum of drug addicts and social misfits into their children. In fact, no mentally fit person desires to purposefully inflict harm on their child. Most people behave this way out of love and nurture alone, but for the religious person they believe in a higher obligation as well.
The bottom line is that Christians, like all other parents feel strong obligations to do what they feel is best for their children. They also believe that they are stewards of these children and that they will be held accountable to God for how they managed his children for him (Bland). This belief in the supernatural management of the universe has led to a controvertibly unnatural response to modern preventative medicine for their children.
“The Beginning of a Communication Breakdown: The Repercussions of the Public’s Mistrust in Vaccines.” The Movement RSS. Boston University School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Bland, Greg. “What Does Being a Steward of Our Children Mean.” Christiancoachingcenter.org. Coach 22, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
“Cultural Perspectives on Vaccination.” History of Vaccines RSS. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“First Amendment: An Overview.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
Helmer, Megan. “God Does Not Support Vaccines.” Living Whole. N.p., 7 July 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
“History of Anti-vaccination Movements.” History of Vaccines RSS. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Horowitz, Leonard G., Norm Franz, and Errol Owen. “Vaccination: The UnGodly Practice.” Tetrahedron.org. Tetrahedron Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
“KNOW…Religious Conviction.” Know-vaccines.org. Vaccine Awareness of North Florida, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
Offit, Paul A. “1-Rediscovering the Past: Mehmet Oz and His Superstars.” Do You Believe in Magic?: Vitamins, Supplements, and All Things Natural: A Look behind the Curtain. New York: Harper, 2013. 27. Print.
“Outbreak of Measles Among Christian Science Students — Missouri and Illinois, 1994.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Sept. 1998. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“STATES WITH RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL EXEMPTIONS FROM SCHOOL IMMUNIZATION REQUIREMENTS.” National Conference of State Legislatures. N.p., 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.