Could Oregon churches see challenges on vaccine rules?


By JOHN FORTMEYER,
Christian News Northwest
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Christian legal rights agency based here recently made it unmistakably clear it stands ready to challenge Oregon state authorities regarding possible new COVID-19 limits on church attenders.

During a 90-minute Zoom video call with hundreds of church leaders nationally May 27, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) focused at times on Oregon and the state’s potential to crack down on those who attend church or other indoor gatherings without being vaccinated.

The institute stands ready to take on any such attempt by the state.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, that if Oregon says you can’t attend an indoor gathering without a vaccine shot. I think that would be a fantastic First Amendment case,” said Brad Dacus, the institute’s president and host of the online call as he cited the U.S. Constitution’s barring of any federal action prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Michael Peffer, a staff attorney with the institute, not only readily agreed but indicated he would relish pursuing such a case.

“I’d love it. Please contact us as soon as possible if that happens,” he told the church leaders on the call. “I think there is some really, really good jurisprudence that has happened at the Supreme Court … so I would have a very hard time saying you can’t go to church unless you’re vaccinated. I’d love that case. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.”

Emily Mimnaugh, a PJI attorney based in Nevada, said Oregon was as of mid-May officially voicing a stronger position than many states.

“Oregon is being difficult,” she said. “As of May 19, they are not requiring masks indoors, but you have to be fully vaccinated and they are making businesses and churches play COVID police. And they are saying you have to check the vaccination status of people, so you want to be aware of that.”

But the extent to which any churches are actually doing that is unclear. As is the case with a multitude of businesses across Oregon, most churches appear to be taking a more relaxed position whereby those going in the buildings are on an honor system, of sorts. Those who are not fully vaccinated are simply being trusted to be honest about it and opt on their own to wear masks, without the churches aggressively checking for proof of vaccination.

Only time will tell to what degree businesses and churches will be pushed by the state to toe the line. But if state authorities seek stronger enforcement of the vaccine mandate, PJI wants to help churches respond effectively, said Mim-naugh.

Dacus said the vaccine issue is now also facing Christian schools at all levels.

For example, some Christian universities are saying they will require their students to be vaccinated this fall, while others are not.

“A good number of Christian colleges and universities are saying no,” said Dacus. He predicted that stance could bring in-creased enrollment in such schools. He explained that in his home state of California, where he said ‘radical activism’ has been attempted by the state with its public universities, “We could see a significant number of students saying, ‘Forget this – I’m going to a private Christian college.’ ”

As for K-12 Christian schools, if there is no exemption on vaccines for their students, it could even result in an exodus by many families from the more politically liberal states, said Dacus.

“I know there are good parents who are just thinking, ‘I’m going to leave the state of Oregon, or California, or New York … A lot of them looking to say ‘Forget it,’ ’’ he said. “This is the last straw. I don’t want my child vaccinated. I can’t have them in the public school, I may not be able to have them in the private school, or for whatever reason, I can’t homeschool.”

PJI sponsors the Zoom chats for church leaders periodically, and usually on Thursday afternoons. For more infor-mation, phone 916-857-6900 or go to pacificjustice.org