Religious Exemption Regimes and Complicity in Sin

Some individuals object to the COVID vaccination because it is partly tested on cells from aborted foetuses. (See, for example, the San Diego case). [them]Avoid using vaccines which depend on the use fetal cell line at any stage in their development. I have seen people argue that the complicity claim for this type of vaccine is not sufficient to make it legal. After all, the argument goes, the claimant isn’t being required to get an abortion, to perform an abortion, or even to consume a product that contained materials from aborted fetuses—only to consume a product that had been tested on cell lines tested using such fetuses.

However, it is legally established that complicity claims are not allowed. DoThe objector must believe that their complicity was sinful to count as religious exemption. It is the responsibility of the objector to determine if the connection becomes too tenuous. The secular courts will not be able to rule. But the objector may still lose. This approach I believe is fundamentally right. Here’s a quick explanation.

[1.] Federal and state law often creates what one might call “general religious exemption regimes”—legal rules under which the government must usually exempt religious objectors from various secular obligations, (a) so long as the obligation substantially burdens the objector’s religious beliefs, (b) unless denying the objection is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest.

  • Federal government action is expressly prohibited by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • In twenty-eight states, the state RFRAs do the same for local government and state action.
  • Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act also provides guidance for state and local governments regarding land use and prisoner care.
  • About a dozen US states’ state courts have held that their state Constitution religious freedom provisions require it with respect to the state and local governments.
  • Between 1963 and 1990, the Court interpreted the Free Exercise Clause in a way that required it to apply to all government actions, federal, or state. However, this changed when the Court ruled. Smith v. Employment Division but it appears poised for a reversal.
  • For now, the Supreme Court has read the Free Exercise Clause as requiring this as to all federal, state, and local government action that has pretty much any secular exemptions that “prohibits religious conduct while permitting secular conduct that undermines the government’s asserted interests in a similar way”—so long as the law has such secular exceptions, it has to create religious exceptions, too.

It is still uncertain whether these general exemptions are a good idea or a sound interpretation the federal and state constitutions. The federal and state Free Exercise Clauses ought to be combined. It is not be read as providing general religious exemption regimes, though jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction RFRAs should be enacted (albeit with a less demanding legal standard for determining exemption claims than “narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest”). Let’s just assume there is an exemption for religious reasons.

[2.]How about complicity cases? What about complicity claims?

The question is determined by the beliefs of the person objecting to the individualistic religious exemptions law. If the woman believes that abortion is not permitted in her religion, and her objections are not religiously motivated, the mandate for vaccines doesn’t significantly burden her religious beliefs.

Many people, however, believe that when a behavior is bad, there are many other ways to be complicit. This belief is shared by many secular Christians. This view is supported by the law in many contexts. This view is held by many religious groups.

People disagree on when complicity ends. Some believe that discrimination against race is wrong, and they wouldn’t consider doing business in South Africa if it meant having to make discriminatory hiring decisions. Some people believed they should not do business with South Africa, even though they were able to do it without discrimination. Some people believed they should not do business with South African businesses. Other people may think they should not buy South African products. Reasonable people may differ on where the link becomes too weak and morally/religiously culpable complicity ends. There is also a lot of debate about whether Nazi-era medical experiments on unwilling subjects are ethical. Different people draw their own lines.

For purposes of religious exemption regimes, the question isn’t whether a judge or jury agrees with a person’s claim that a law requires him to engage in behavior that is sinful—it is whether the person sincerely believes that the behavior is sinful. The question of whether the secular legal system believes the person has drawn the correct line about complicity does not determine whether the person believes the behavior is sinful.

Thomas v. Review Board (1981), which the Court reaffirmed in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores The classic example is (2014). Eddie Thomas was employed in a machine company. He was then transferred to a unit that made tank turrets. Thomas was fired after refusing to do so. The Court’s Free Exercise Clause Jurisprudence states that Thomas can claim unemployment compensation if he refuses to work in war production. Although the lower court stated that it was, the Court reversed this decision (emphasis on added).

[The Indiana Supreme Court noted] that Thomas admitted before the referee that he would not object to “working for United States Steel or Inland Steel … produc[ing] the raw product necessary for the production of any kind of tank … [because I]It would not be an indirect party to the person they sent it to [and] would not be … chargeable in … conscience ….” This position was found to be inconsistent with Thomas’s stated opposition towards the production of arms. Thomas claims that work at the roll foundry was sufficiently protected from making weapons of war. So, it can be seen that Thomas did draw a line. However, this does not mean that the line he drawn was unreasonably high.

Thomas didn’t have to fire a bomb, kill someone using a truck, or ride on a vehicle that assists the gunner. He also wasn’t required to assemble tanks. However, he believed that religious prohibitions went beyond that. Even making tank turrets—though not making steel that would go into a tank—was, he thought, itself sinful complicity with sin.

The Court ruled that it was his responsibility to decide where God wants him to draw a boundary. However, the requirement of a “substantial load” didn’t require that there be a connection sufficient to complicity in the secular legal system. The burden may be considered insubstantial when it is too low for secular costs to account, but not because those outside of religions think it’s too weak for sinful complicity to consider.

A few abortion advocates draw a similar line. They believe that taking vaccines which were developed using products that they perceive as murder, is sinful complicity in sin. However, going to schools that have been reopened as a result that those vaccines are widely accepted is acceptable. Although some may be lying, as long the judge (or a jury in certain cases) decides that this line is correct, the judge can’t further determine if it is.

This position is especially sensible considering the wide range of American judgments on complicity.

You can be charged with being an accomplice if you aid someone to commit their crimes. If you help someone, knowing that your actions are helping him commit the crime, you aren’t an accomplice under the laws of most states—but you are under the laws of some states.

Furthermore, different types of conduct have their own rules. According to federal law, it is illegal to tell someone how to build a bomb or to know that they plan to do so. It is also a crime for you to know that you are providing aid to terrorist foreign organizations.

It is illegal to know distribution or even possess child pornography. While there is a causal relationship between the possession and production of child pornography, it’s not direct. The law still criminalizes child pornography possession based upon this connection.

That’s not all there is to criminal law. Do you want to know? Or have the right to know that your actions are materially helping someone infringe copyright, you are guilty of contributory copyright infringement. And in some situations, you can be vicariously liable for copyright infringement even if you weren’t negligent—for instance, if a band performs a song in a bar that you own and it turns out that (despite their assurances to the contrary) they weren’t licensed by the owner of the copyright in the song.

People can also be held responsible for helping another person commit criminal acts beyond copyright laws. If landlords allow their property to become drug-related, it can be taken from them. This list could continue.

It’s no surprise that there are so many judgments on complicity within a secular legal system. This makes it easy for people to have different opinions about the religious obligation not to be complicity. It’s not surprising, then that some people may feel God’s demand that they refrain from sin is more than Caesar’s.

[3.]How does a court handle situations where a religious exemption scheme applies (item 1, above) but a person objects sincerely to the law (item 2, above). Obviously, the person doesn’t categorically win: A court would still have to ask if denying the exemption is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest—which is to say (more or less) if granting the exemption would unavoidably substantially harm that interest. There is a possibility that certain vaccination mandates are passed strict scrutiny due to their compelling interest in protecting lives and the fact that exemptions would unavoidably result in some additional deaths.

This analysis doesn’t matter if the claim of the objector is based upon complicity. If you sincerely believe that complicity with sin is itself sinful—or, more broadly, complicitly with religiously improper behavior is itself religious improper—American religious exemptions law doesn’t second-guess the reasonableness or directness of that complicity claim.