Dear Antivaxxers, not in the Name of God

Freedom of religion does not include freedom from facts. It also does not include the freedom to endanger others.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko, | updated: 07:30

OpEds Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
צילום: PR

The recent measles outbreak has shaken New York City. While ignorance and disinformation are at the root of the argument against vaccines, recently, some have added, it is their “religious right” not to vaccinate.

To those people, I say: please, not in the name of God.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation put it best: ”the greatest crime against a religion is a crime committed in its name.” Hiding behind religion for the reckless and dangerous goal of not vaccinating is a cowardly and shameful thing to do.

Religious freedom is enshrined in the United States Constitution and is at the core of what this country is all about. Every person is entitled to worship freely and follow their personal religious belief. As a Rabbi, I advocate that not just for members of my religion, but for members of other religions too.

Furthermore, I do not advocate for my own religion in a monolithic way. I understand that while I practice and believe Judaism in one way, I still would like for people who practice Judaism in a way different than mine to be free to practice Judaism the way they see fit. The government should not infringe on anyone’s way of practicing their religion.

Freedom of religion, however, does not include freedom from facts. Religious freedom does not entitle one to make false scientific claims. The science is clear: vaccines save lives. Not vaccinating kills. Just this past week, in Madagascar, 1200(!) people died from the measles outbreak. This is not a matter to joke about.  

Tragically, religious communities often fall victim to the manipulation and misinformation spread by antivaxxers. The Amish community in Ohio is an unfortunate example of this. They too had members who did not vaccinate. Until the year of 2014 when they had a terrible measles outbreak and had to learn the hard way, that doctors and scientists were right.

Antivaxxers who clock their ill-gotten beliefs in the guise of religion, also cause real damage to religious communities. From this day on, religious communities asking for accommodations and exemptions will have a far harder time making their arguments after the great abuse of religion and using it for something as un-religious and outrageous as anti-vaxxing.

All those who hold public health, religion, and human decency dear, must condemn the use of religion for the sake of not vaccinating and must stand firmly against the abuse of the name of religion in the battle for New York’s health.




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