July 16, 2015

Nearly all states allow religious exemptions for vaccinations

46 States Allow Religious Vaccine Exemptions for Childhood Vaccines

Forty-six states currently allow children to be exempt from vaccinations due to religious concerns, including 17 states that also allow exemptions for “personal reasons,” according to a Pew Research Center analysis. One state, Minnesota, allows parents to not vaccinate their children based on a broader “personal” exemption that does not explicitly mention religion.

While all states require children to receive certain vaccinations before they can enter public school, most states offer nonmedical exemptions to those requirements. (Every state allows exemptions for children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.)

Only three states – California, Mississippi and West Virginia – do not offer any nonmedical vaccine exemptions. California recently enacted a law – set to take effect on July 1, 2016 – that will eliminate both personal and religious vaccine exemptions. Legislatures in other states, such as Pennsylvania, also are considering eliminating personal exemptions.

Meanwhile, Colorado recently made the exemption process more onerous. While the state continues to offer both personal and religious exemptions, parents must submit new exemption paperwork every year.

Our analysis found wide variation among the states in how vaccination exemptions are administered. Some states have strict guidelines surrounding religious exemptions. Delaware, for instance, requires parents to submit a notarized affidavit stating that a sincere belief in “a Supreme Being” is the reason for the exemption request. And Oregon requires parents to obtain a “vaccine education certificate,” either from a health care provider or by viewing an online seminar, before their child can be exempted.

Many states specify that “philosophical” arguments must not be cited as a basis for granting a religious exemption. But it’s impossible to know exactly what grounds people cite in applying for religious exemptions, since most states, such as Connecticut, do not require parents to provide detailed reasons for claiming exemptions.

And even though 46 states allow religious exemptions for vaccinations, researchers and journalists have struggled to identify a single major U.S. religious group that currently advocates against vaccination for children. Some of these exemptions exist “at least in part owing to the lobbying efforts of the Christian Science Church,” according to an article in the Annual Review of Public Health by Douglas Diekema, a doctor and bioethicist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. But even though the church is well known for its belief in healing through prayer, it does not advocate that its members refrain from vaccinating children.

Some components of vaccines could theoretically cause other religious concerns. Certain vaccines contain gelatin that is derived from pigs, including some measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and varicella (chicken pox) vaccines, and many Jews and Muslims do not consume swine products. However, many religious authorities from Judaism and Islam have said that the vaccines are permissible.

Additionally, the Catholic Church has sanctioned the “temporary” use of vaccines, such as some rubella vaccines, which may be developed from descendant cells of tissue from aborted fetuses. (The church also encourages its followers to seek out alternative vaccines that do not use such cells.)

Note: This post was originally published on Feb. 25, 2015, and updated on July 16 to reflect California’s enactment of a law that will eliminate both personal and religious vaccine exemptions as of July 1, 2016. 

Topics: Religion and Government, Health Care, State and Local Government

  1. Photo of Aleksandra Sandstrom

    is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Zel Ilano1 year ago

    my colleague was wanting AU Form 16 some time ago and was informed about a company that has lots of form templates . If people require AU Form 16 too , here’s goo.gl/nMk76J

  2. Jason Tillotson2 years ago

    What difference do the thoughts of the FB community make? None. The thoughts of doctors and scientists matter, and they have emphatically reached an overwhelming consensus that we should vaccinate.

    Vaccines cause autism or have a significant chance of causing harm? Wow! In that case publish your peer-reviewed findings and collect your Nobel prize. Otherwise, your opinion based on the 2 internet articles you read makes you part of the anti-intellectual pseudoscientific tinfoil-hat wearing lunatics that think your ignorance is just as relevant as actual science. It isn’t though and you wackadoo may just kill millions of people with your poorly thought out conspiracy theories.

    1. sirex2 years ago

      So you are willing to vaccinate your children with engineered vaccines, that have no connection to your child’s life whatsoever. But can potentially save them from harmful diseases and illnesses. And even if the chances of the children coming down with such illnesses are slim.

      1. t2 years ago

        if it was your child that died from a vaccine, you’d have a different view.

  3. Bev2 years ago

    Religion is a personal thing, the Pope nor anyone else can tell you to vaccinate or not. Besides, most don’t even know about the toxic ingredients or risks to susceptible children and adults.

    1. t2 years ago

      that’s because it’s hard to realize that you’ve been brainwashed when you’ve been brainwashed. They have been fed lies & trust that our own government wouldn’t do such a thing. Those are exactly the naive, mindless people that the government is banking on, & they’re all too ignorant to see that.t

      1. Alex2 years ago

        Yeah it’s sickening to think that all these people who are against vaccines are brainwashed to think so and they can’t even recognize it, I bet most anti-vaxxers don’t even bother to research that an Apple has loads more formaldehyde than any vaccine.

  4. Cathy Mills2 years ago

    It is simple to join a religious faith that forbids vaccines. The faith called FellowdivOrg allows you to join online and print membership certificate right off the web. Another one called the Church of Illumination can be joined by snail mail.

    Anyone who thinks that vaccines cannot possibly cause autism needs to watch the PBS interview of Dr. Martha Herbert MD PHD Harvard Medical School (the clip in shown at FellowdivOrg). She explains that all those studies claiming that vaccines cannot cause autism are not necessarily designed to identified kids that could have toxic reaction to vaccines. In her words, “When we were having this explosion of our chemical revolution, we didn’t have any way of knowing the subtle impacts on cellular function. We thought, if it doesn’t kill you, it’s probably okay. But now we’re learning that it can alter your regulation way before it kills you.”

    1. John Padron2 years ago

      Cathy, I suggest you head on over to this website and look at the information related to autism and specifically the information about Dr. Herbert and her actual published work in the field. Having a doctorate does not immunize you from being incorrect. No pun intended. 🙂 Pay special attention to the section headed, ‘Dr. Woo–I mean Dr. Hyman–then goes on to cite a whole lot of, well, woo:’, where Dr. Herbert is cited.


    2. t2 years ago

      and that’s been the divine plan all this time. it’s much easier to control population if people willingly do themselves in.

  5. B Gregory2 years ago

    Childhood illnesses were one of God’s creations. We do our best to provide a good environment so our children will be healthy. If they get sick, it is wonderful to have medical treatments, and if a child dies, he died a natural death. If, on the other hand, we vaccinate a healthy child knowing that there is a risk however small and that child dies, we are guilty of murder. God did not make a mistake when he created us or disease. We make a mistake when we try to play God.

    1. t2 years ago


  6. Roger Price2 years ago

    There is no recognized exemption from vaccinations in Judaism. To the contrary, for over two hundred years, Jewish authorities of all denominations have determined that for the general population approved vaccines are not only required, but kosher, too. See judaismandscience.com/a-nice-jew…