On Mandatory Vaccines and Religious Exemptions; Communique of the Holy Eparchial Synod of September 16, 2021
BREWER & PRITCHARD
A Professional Corporation
Attorneys & Counselors
September 17, 2021
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Greek Orthodox Church of America
8 East 79th Street New York, NY 10075
via email communications@GOARCH.ORG
Re: Mandatory Vaccines; Communique of the Holy Eparchial Synod of September 16, 2021
I am an Orthodox Christian and a tithing member of a Greek Orthodox parish. I write in regard to the Communique’s condemnation of religious objections to coerced vaccinations. A great many Greek Orthodox people have already objected to the COVID vaccines because, as the pharmaceutical companies themselves acknowledge, they have been developed or tested with or manufactured using aborted foetal tissue. I know about this firsthand because I have advised and represented many Orthodox Christians who have already suffered humiliation, ostracization and the threat of the loss of their livelihoods for refusing to be vaccinated. More than any other institution, the Church should honor such religious objections to the vaccines. Instead, in this 200th year of Greek independence, the Holy Synod has undermined Orthodox Christians who have deep religious objections without regard to the suffering they have already experienced. Please allow me to explain.
First, the Communique supports the Federal Government’s unconstitutional and illegitimate requirement that Americans be compelled to accept a dangerous medical treatment in order to carry on their lives. Thus, the Communique undermines the ability of Greek Orthodox Christians to resist such government compulsion. It violates their conscience, forcing them to subordinate their own understanding of Biblical truth to orders issued by secular authorities who have no concern whatsoever for their salvation. The elevation of the demands of the State over the conscience of individuals is an attribute of a tyranny. There was a dark time in our history when states mandated the sterilization of many Americans because they were viewed as feeble minded based on the same type of logic. The Commnique should have supported those Orthodox believers who are trying to do their duty to God as they see it and who have the courage to say Όχι! rather than to serve the interests of an increasingly dangerous Government.
Second, the Communique takes no account of the American legal principle of bodily integrity.
In a recent survey of the law of bodily integrity, Professor Caitlin Borgmann provided this historical background of this important right: “The common law right not to have our bodies touched or invaded without our consent is so well established that most of us take its existence for granted. The Supreme Court has described it as the most ‘sacred; of rights.” [Caitlin Borgmann, The Constitutionality of Government-Imposed Bodily Intrusions, 2014 U. ILL. L. REV. 1059 (2014).] For this principle, Professor Borgmann cites Union P.R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891) (“No right is held more sacred or is more carefully guarded by the common law than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.”). As Professor Borgmann explains, the Supreme Court has been uneven in its defense of the notion of bodily integrity, but that ambiguous record should provide no comfort to Church leaders in particular. The Communique runs roughshod over this profound right by failing to even recognize the simple fact that mandatory vaccination means the violation of bodily integrity through forced medical treatment against the person’s will.
Individual religious objections to vaccines is neither new nor unfounded. For many decades, clergy have been approached by parishioners seeking support for claims of religious exemption to medical treatments to which they do not consent. Notably, however, the Communique comes in the midst of a vaccine mandate crisis. Yet it takes the side of Big Business and most recently, the federal Government, rather than standing up to this ungodly assault on individual liberty and religious freedom. The Holy Synod’s embrace of vaccine mandates – not on religious or doctrinal grounds, but in the name of “science” – reduces its spiritual legitimacy and leaves it as little more than an organ of the State. The Communique stands in direct opposition to the sincerely held religious beliefs and First Amendment rights of its own flock – the Orthodox faithful – and squarely in league with the agenda of Big Government and Big Business. This has nothing to do with the allegedly “false narratives utterly unfounded in science.” It has everything to do with the religious conscience of the faithful who should never have had reason to doubt that their Church stood beside them.
Regarding letters from clergy. Ironically, under the First Amendment and the Constitutions of each of the 50 states, letters of support from clergy have never been required to support a claim of religious exemption. Indeed, the First Amendment forbids any intrusion into the religious sphere and prohibits any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Similarly, the Holy Synod should likewise take great pains to avoid even the appearance of wading into the political and legal sphere, but instead, it now openly denounces the Orthodox faithful who object to the vaccines on religious grounds. This is especially tragic considering how deeply offensive the vaccines themselves are to so many Orthodox Christians.
To reiterate, a person with religious objections to the vaccines need not submit a letter from a clergyman to support that claim. This is because the “government may not compel affirmation of religious belief ” – including a requirement of external “proof” of one’s sincerely held religious beliefs. Id. See also Article VII: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Thus, among other things, this means that “[n]either a state nor the Federal Government . . . can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 492-93 (1961). If the Holy Synod felt any action was necessary, it need have gone no further than to give this counsel to the clergy. In short, going beyond such counsel and echoing State-sponsored vaccine mandates is a grave mistake indeed.
There are many legitimate reasons why Orthodox Christians object to COVID vaccines. The most commonly asserted basis for religious objection to the vaccine mandates is that all are a type of gene therapy and all were tested using the cell lines of aborted foetuses. This basis for objection – legitimate on its face – has already been expressly recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751 (2014) (Holding that the choice between providing insurance coverage in accordance with the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs or paying a large fine violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment). Surely the Holy Synod should be transparent about such legal precedent and to widely-available material such as the Orthodox Compilation of Synodal Statements, Medical Studies, Professional Dissertations, and Hierarchical and Monastic Statements(1) or the Archpastoral letters of other Orthodox hierarchs.(2)
I respectfully submit that the Holy Synod should support Orthodox clergy and their parishioners who have asserted or wish to assert their sincerely held religious beliefs against(3) the vaccines, if for no other reason than this: Orthodox Christians place tremendous value on free will, and as Americans, they place tremendous value on their individual right of religious freedom. See, for example, Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 877 (1990) (The “free exercise of religion means, first and foremost, the right to believe and profess whatever religious doctrine one desires.”).
In conclusion, recognizing that many Orthodox clergy, hierarchs and laity have continued to condemn the use of experimental gene therapy and vaccines derived from aborted foetal tissue, I respectfully and humbly implore Your Eminence to immediately withdraw the Communique and remove it from the website and all social media.
J. Mark Brewer
1) Accessible at:
2) See, for example, His Eminence Siluan’s Archpastoral Reflection on the Current Covid Crisis, September 10, 2021, available at https://soc.org.au/en/news/1519-archpastoral-refle...
3) I am unaware of any Orthodox writers who have expressed a sincerely held religious belief or presented doctrinal arguments in favor of the Covid vaccines. Certainly, no Orthodox writer has argued that the Church Fathers support vaccine mandates!
Download the PDF of this letter here: https://www.mediafire.com/file/970f4ks61etcjwm/His...