Vaccine Mandates and Religious Liberty

Aug 12, 2021 by David Fowler

Vaccine Mandates and Religious Liberty
With a flap last week over vaccine mandates being imposed on employees of certain state and local government agencies here in Tennessee and perhaps a nationwide mandate on all persons, I couldn’t help but think of what President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” I agree. What if Christian political leaders and pastors used this potential crisis to teach people about real religious liberty and the First Amendment’s free exercise clause? I thought I would start the ball rolling.

Where My Thinking Must Begin

My thinking about a vaccination mandate must begin, as with everything else, with “Who is God and what has He done,” the advice given by Dr. George Grant at our Restoring the Vision Seminar. Without what follows in this section, my conclusion is likely to make some people very mad.
It makes sense to begin there because that is where the Bible starts, telling us that God precedes everything we see and experience. Like any story, and the Bible is God’s story about Himself, we should start at the beginning.
After reading the whole story, I came to see that God created everything for His own glory. I won’t get into why this is not self-aggrandizing and must be logically true, but, I resisted it when it came to me personally. It means that if anything I do is not directed to God’s glory and if I do not acknowledge that what I do is actually God working in me (Phillipians 2:13), then I fall short of His glory, which is what God calls sin (Romans 3:23).  
Once I grasped that, I realized I could never make up for having fallen short in the past of the glory for which I was created, and I would never get it right all the time in the future. 
That’s when I realized that being justified in God’s sight is all of mercy and grace on God’s part. I could never merit justification in God’s sight, period.

Applying My Thinking About God and Me to Vaccine Mandates

Because it is what God does that brings about my justification, neither compliance with nor civil disobedience toward a vaccination mandate will affect my justification before God one bit.
It might not be what I would prefer to do medically. I might think the mandate is a violation of my God-given personal liberty, as I discussed last week. But a violation of my religious liberty, i.e., my conscience, before God? Not in the slightest. 
If every wrong judgment on my part damns me to Hell, then I might as well jump on in, because I’ll make one before your email calling me a liberal or antinomian[i] arrives in my inbox on Monday.

But What About Sanctification?

I suspect some will say, “But, David, it is not a matter of justification, but of sanctification.” This, too, is where Christian political leaders and pastors can help. 
If, after we explain to that person Paul’s treatment of conscience regarding meat offered to idols, that person still believes growing in sanctification means not getting vaccinated, we need to tell him or her not to get vaccinated. Do not go against conscience before God. For “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

What About the Negative Consequences?

I cannot catalogue and respond to every possible negative consequence that might arise from refusing a vaccine mandate, but here is one: “What if I can’t travel or do other things I may want or even need to do? Doesn’t God care about that?”
I understand the sentiment. But we also need to help those so concerned to remember that the same grace that provided the liberty Paul and Silas needed to sing and pray in prison (Acts 16:25) can be theirs. 
And, of course, God cares. He knows what we need before we do (Matthew 6:28-32). And He may know the temporary and light affliction that vaccine restrictions might bring will actually work for us to produce in us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:7) not worthy to be compared to the present suffering (Romans 8:18).  
After all, though some “through faith subdued kingdoms,” “stopped the mouths of lions,” and “quenched the violence of fire,” “[o]thers were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Turns out, God didn’t think the world was worthy of having this latter group among them! (Hebrews 11:32-35).


Christians do not need a “Free Exercise Clause” to save their conscience. That is provided by“the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.” That, alone, will “cleanse your conscience from dead works [like those associated with vaccine mandates] to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14).
So, in love I would say to Christians who are struggling with the idea of a vaccine mandate, if we must be “saved” by a Free Exercise Clause, then we have a poor savior indeed. 
Therefore, in my view, if Christians want to fight against a vaccine mandate, they should do so on the ground that civil government that has gone beyond its sphere of jurisdiction and neglected its duty to preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the personal liberty of its citizens. 
But let’s not make it a matter of Free Exercise; in Christ, Christians already have that!
If you would like to know more about the history of the Free Exercise Clause, the roots of which are found in the works of William Perkins of Cambridge written in the late 1500’s, let me commend L. John van Til’s book, Liberty of Conscience, The History of a Puritan Idea.
[i] Antinomians share the same spirit as that of legalists, a denial of the goodness of God and a regenerative union with Christ in which the affections of Christ for the law of God become one’s delight (Psalm 40:8). True union with Christ cannot be antinomian (Romans 6).

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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