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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Test of faith in exemption

by John Brummett | September 15, 2021 at 3:17 a.m.

I came up in the Church of Christ in the '60s, so I know about religious exemptions. We were against just about everything.

So, in the seventh or eighth grade, I got my mom to write a letter to the school principal exempting me on religious grounds from a couple of weeks of physical-education class during which we would be square-dancing.

I had been told at church and home that dancing was a sin in that it was revelry and would lead to fornicating. But that's not why I got my mom to write the letter.

I'd seen square-dancing and never once had it inspired me to lust. As for some of that modern lower-anatomy movement occurring in that era to the rising rhythm-and-blues music--I could begin to see how one might be tempted astray by that.

But, in the matter at hand, I simply didn't want to have to do any of that yee-haw do-si-do they were doing on the hillbilly-music shows my parents watched.

Buddies asked why I wasn't in PE, but study hall, and I said square-dancing was stupid and I got my mom to say it was against my religion. They wondered why they hadn't thought of that. Apparently they weren't being inspired to flesh pleasures either.

Am I making light of religious beliefs? Not all of them. I'm mainly saying the assertion of religion can be very handy.

So, now we see the emergence of workplace requirements for vaccinations against covid, but with an allowance for a religious exemption. And we're trying to figure out how to define a religious exemption.

An Indiana woman told The New York Times she opposed vaccine requirements as an infringement on her freedom, so she got out her Bible in search of a quotable scripture and produced a letter with a citation and got herself exempted. Her implication was that she was being more creative than religious.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that religious exemptions can be entirely personal and not based on evidence of association with a religious group.

The general issue is that fetal cell lines were used for testing, in two cases, and in development, in one, for the three covid vaccinations.

So, if you're against abortion as a sin, as many are, then you presumably might object on religious grounds in that you'd be taking something that relied on fetal cells originating from abortion.

Declining the medical advancement wouldn't undo any abortion. But maybe it's the principle of the thing for some people.

We have the typically raging right-wing untruth that drug companies go out and harvest the latest fetal tissue and use it in their products. That's not so, of course.

In the 1970s in The Netherlands, physicians developed a procedure for freezing fetal cells and then recreating them exponentially in the laboratory to use largely to test the effects of developing products.

The fetal cell lines used today have their origin in those cells from the '70s. But they are thousands of generations removed from them.

And, by the way, The Netherlands legalized abortion except to save the life of the mother only in the '80s, meaning the original cells presumably were from necessary abortions. And, from that, they've eased pain and extended life.

So now comes an unlikely source--the Conway Regional Medical Center--with a novel and mildly sassy policy on vaccine requirements and religious exemptions. A copy of the policy document got posted on social media over the weekend and immediately was suspected of being fake--so jarring was it.

But it was real, as hospital officials confirmed.

The document was the hospital's "attestation form" for signing--for attesting--by persons claiming a religious exemption. It says, "This will help to validate your understanding of the ubiquity of fetal cell use in the testing and development of common medicines and consumer products and support your claim of a 'sincerely held belief.'"

Then the document lists several medicines widely in use for relief from pain and discomfort--Tylenol, ibuprofen, Preparation H, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Lipitor, Zocor, Zoloft, Benadryl, Sudafed, Claritin and more.

Some of those were developed before the '70s. But they or derivations have been tested on fetal cells since.

Then the form asks that asserters of a religious exemption from the covid vaccine on the basis of fetal-cell use attest with their signature that they haven't and won't use any of those drugs either.

That's kind of like asking if lying is against your religion.

For the moment, according to a hospital spokesman, all employees asserting a religious exemption are given the form to sign, and those who decline to sign but continue to cite a religious objection are allowed to continue working on a provisional basis, which means subject to further action.

So, it may be that the document's main value will be the exposure of hypocrisy and the providing of education, if, that is, hypocrisy and education are even things anymore.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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