RI religious leaders speak out against vaccine mandate for health care workers


FILE – In this April 26, 2021 file photo, a nursing student administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at UNLV, in Las Vegas. Philanthropies are pouring millions into programs aimed at persuading Americans to get vaccinated for COVID-19. The money is being spent on community-based organizations, local social media influencers and other things aiming to dispel myths and misinformation. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — Calling it “an overreach of power,” dozens of religious leaders in Rhode Island reached out to Gov. Dan McKee expressing their discontent over the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Reverend Stephen Boyce, senior pastor of the New Life Community of Churches, called the mandate an act of coercion that puts medical professionals in an unconscionable situation. He cited Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was put in place to protect workers from religious discrimination.

“We wholeheartedly believe that members of our churches and citizens of our communities who served
through the worst of the pandemic as ‘essential workers’ should not now be discarded by the very
institutions they upheld,” Boyce said, adding that the unvaccinated health care workers have “religious, rational and reasonable objections” to the shot.

In a letter sent to McKee, the religious leaders claim the state hasn’t provided an explanation for not allowing religious exemptions.

“There has been no public debate, and the outcry has fallen on deaf ears,” the letter reads. “We are asking that this oversight be redressed, and members of our community be treated with dignity and respect.”

While the religious leaders clarified that they are not against the vaccine itself, they are concerned that the topic hasn’t been brought up in discussions regarding the vaccine mandate.

“Many in our congregations have made their own decision to take the vaccine, especially those most at-risk,” Awakening Church Care Pastor David de la Cruz said. “Many of us are pro-vaccine, but all of us are certainly anti-coercion.”

“The lack of dialogue on this subject is concerning, and the lack of clarity concerning the future strategy around government-mandated injections as a condition of employment is unacceptable,” he continued. “One of the foundational precepts this nation was founded upon was the freedom of religion, a tenet that has come under attack more than any other during this difficult season. Our churches were shuttered, our priests barred from visiting the sick and dying, members of our congregations having to bury their loved ones alone—all of this mandated to us from the federal and state government.”

During Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing, McKee called the requirement “crucial” in protecting Rhode Islanders, especially those who are more vulnerable.

“Our health care workers have to be vaccinated to stay healthy and to keep others healthy,” McKee said. “We cannot put vulnerable patients at risk when they come to our facilities seeking care.”

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