• Latest statement by the church on vaccination concerns says that “COVID immunization could be an issue of conscience for individual members with personal convictions and thus a religious liberty issue for them.”
    • Religious exemptions are something you are entitled to because of your own personal beliefs, according to Orlan Johnson, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) for the North American Division.
    • In Canada, when it comes to religious liberty claims, the practice of a belief does not have to be mandatory to the religion, or observed by all who practice the religion. What is important is that the practice has a connection to religion.

28 January 2022 | The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Communication Department released a statement on Jan. 26, 2022, titled, “Concerns Regarding COVID-19, Church Governance, and Liberty of Conscience.”

The statement follows close on the heels of a recent YouTube sermon by Adventist Frontier Missions President Conrad Vine titled, “An Appeal to the Adventist Nobility,” that has been generating buzz in Adventist circles; at the time of publishing, it had more than 66,000 views.

Vine’s sermon brought up concerns about religious exemptions from mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. In particular, Vine claimed the church’s immunization statements from 2015 and 2021 were preventing Adventists with religious objecions to the vaccines from receiving religious exemptions from employers because the church statements supported “responsible vaccination.” Consequently, many Adventists with religious objections to the vaccines but no exemptions from their employers were losing their jobs due to their refusals to take the vaccine.

Vine cited the example of an Adventist member in Canada whose employer refused to grant her a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine based on a passage from the 2021 Reaffirmation Immunization Statement that read, “Claims of religious liberty are not used appropriately in objecting to government mandates or employer programs designed to protect the health and safety of their communities.”

However, in Canada, when it comes to religious liberty claims, the practice of a belief does not have to be mandatory to the religion, or observed by all who practice the religion. What is important is that the practice has a connection to religion.

In past freedom of religion cases, such as R v Big M Drug Mart Ltd (1985), the Supreme Court of Canada also advocated for giving freedom of religion a large and liberal definition emphasizing individual rights.

“Your religious exemption is actually your personal religious exemption. It is not a denominational exemption. So it’s not something you gain by being connected to a denomination. It’s something you are entitled to because of your own personal beliefs,” said Orlan Johnson, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) for the North American Division, during a YouTube presentation titled Employment Vaccine Mandates and Religious Exemptions FAQs.

However, Associate General Counsel for the General Conference Todd McFarland cautioned in that same YouTube presentation that employers determine how religious exemptions are actualized. For example, instead of vaccinations, employers might require employees to wear masks and do weekly testings, or work from home, depending on the nature of the employment.

“Generally speaking, the employer gets to choose the accommodation, even if it’s less favorable to the employee and a more favorable one is available, as long as they remain reasonably employed,” said McFarland, “even if it isn’t the accommodation the employee would necessarily want or prefer.”

The 2022 Concerns statement made clear that “COVID immunization could be an issue of conscience for individual members with personal convictions and thus a religious liberty issue for them,” even if it is not a religious liberty issue for the church.

The 2022 Concerns statement said the Adventist church respects members with conscientious convictions against mandated vaccines and “can support them in the following ways: 1) By praying with them that God will work out a solution to the challenge they face; 2) Assisting them in writing a personal letter to their employer.”

Anyone with a religious liberty concern can contact PARL at https://www.adventistliberty.org/contact-parl, or report a religious liberty concern at  https://www.adventistliberty.org/report-concern.

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(Photo: The Adventist Church released a statement on Jan. 26, 2022, confirming that “COVID immunization could be an issue of conscience for individual members with personal convictions and thus a religious liberty issue for them.”)

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