Baptist and Methodist Seminaries Team up to Challenge Biden Vaccine Mandate: 'We Have No Choice'

Michael Foust | Contributor | Monday, November 8, 2021
Baptist and Methodist Seminaries Team up to Challenge Biden Vaccine Mandate: 'We Have No Choice'

Baptist and Methodist Seminaries Team up to Challenge Biden Vaccine Mandate: 'We Have No Choice'

Two of the largest and most prominent Christian seminaries in the United States teamed up on Friday to challenge the Biden administration's vaccine/testing mandate, calling it an "abuse of executive power" and a violation of federal law and First Amendment rights.

The federal suit by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., says the two institutions don't oppose the COVID-19 vaccine but believe the mandate is an example of "unprecedented federal overreach" that will distract the schools from their religious mission.

Under the new Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"), employers with 100 or more employees must enforce a vaccine/testing mandate. Workers either must be vaccinated or undergo regular testing and mandatory masking. The employer is responsible for enforcement.

Employees have until Jan. 4 to become fully vaccinated, according to the rule. Employers must comply with the new rule by Dec. 4.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the seminaries, filed the lawsuit with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Under threats of heavy penalties, the ETS forces private employers – including religious institutions – to ensure that their employees are either vaccinated or tested weekly and masked," the lawsuit says. "The ETS represents a breathtaking encroachment of federal power into the employment decisions of private religious institutions. It empowers OSHA to commandeer religious institutions to enforce federal mandates on their own ministers and employees – many of whom may have sincere religious and conscientious objections to the government's mandate. In doing so, the federal government will force religious institutions to divert resources away from their religious missions. And it will directly interfere with those institutions' internal management and employment decisions."

It is "doubtful," the lawsuit says, whether the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act "even allows OSHA to exercise jurisdiction over religious institutions in the first instance." Moreover, the suit says the mandate itself "is a serious intrusion on religious autonomy and free exercise" that "cannot withstand scrutiny under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

The suit notes that an overwhelming majority of the public, including 80.6 percent of the adult population as of Monday, has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Further, the suit says, the U.S. has "learned to adapt and mitigate the effects of the disease."

"Perhaps for those reasons, as late as July 23 of this year, the White House stated that mandating vaccines is 'not the role of the federal government,'" the lawsuit says. "... Although Petitioners do not oppose the vaccines, their Christian faith requires them to respect their employees' religious decisions to remain unvaccinated and to not burden those beliefs.

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler, who has promoted the vaccine, said in a statement it is "unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power."

"We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction," Mohler said. "This institution exists for the purpose of educating ministers for churches. This seminary must not be forced to stand in for the government in investigating the private health decisions of our faculty and employees in a matter involving legitimate religious concerns."


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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Sittithat Tangwitthayaphum

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.