Two Evangelical Seminaries Sue to Block Vaccine Mandates

By Bob Smietana
Vaccine Mandate
Photo by Ed Us/Unsplash/Creative Commons

Two prominent evangelical seminaries, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary, are challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate in federal court.

Under new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, employers with more than 100 workers must require those workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The rules, which went into effect in early November, set a January deadline for those vaccinations.

Attorneys for Southern and Asbury — both in Kentucky — filed a petition today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit alleging the rules violate the religious freedom of the seminaries.

The schools are represented by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, a major Christian legal nonprofit that often promotes conservative causes. The group has filed similar lawsuits for other Christian employers this week as well.

Ryan Bangert, senior counsel for ADF, said the vaccine rules interfere with the core mission of the seminaries, which is to train future ministers.

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“The government has no authority to unilaterally treat unvaccinated employees like workplace hazards or to compel employers to become vaccine commissars, and we are asking the 6th Circuit to put a stop to it immediately,” Bangert said in a statement. “We are honored to represent these two theological seminaries at this critical time and help ensure they can continue to serve their students and communities without government interference.”

Asbury, a multi-denominational seminary with ties to Methodist churches, has 1,721 students, according to data from the Association of Theological Seminaries. Southern, a Southern Baptist school, has 3,390 students.

Albert “Al” Mohler, president of Southern, said the two schools had “no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”

Al Mohler
Albert Mohler (Photo Credit: Albert

“It is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power,” Mohler said in a statement.

Mohler has praised the COVID-19 vaccine in the past.

In a press conference Friday, Mohler said he has been vaccinated and has encouraged others to be vaccinated. He said the Biden administration rules turn the seminaries into arms of the federal government, charged with enforcing government rules.

“The larger issue here for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is religious liberty. And on that we take our stand,” he said.

Mohler said the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which has more than 300 employees, has no official position on vaccines and also noted Southern Baptist churches are divided on the issue of vaccines. He also repeated his concern that the mandate is a distraction from the mission of the seminary and changes the relationship between the school and its students.

“That, I believe, is a form of government coercion, turning a religious institution into a form of government coercion, that we must resist,” he said.  

Southern’s website includes a set of COVID-19 policies for the school, which includes details on how to be vaccinated. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine is strongly encouraged for all members of the Southern Seminary and Boyce College family,” those policies read. “Those with questions may consult with their personal physician.”

Asbury’s website also recommends the COVID-19 vaccination.

The petition filed by the two seminaries asks the 6th Circuit to block enforcement of the mandate while the petition is being reviewed. David Cortman, vice president of U.S. litigation with ADF, said the group has broader concerns about the mandate, saying the OSHA has overstepped its authority.

“OSHA does not have the authority to issue this on behalf of anyone,” he said during a press conference.

COVID-19 vaccines have become increasingly controversial among white evangelical Christians. A September survey from Pew Research found that four in 10 white evangelicals said they are not vaccinated, the highest total among any religious category.

At least one prominent evangelical leader — Dan Darling, a former vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters — lost his job after publicly encouraging evangelicals to consider being vaccinated. 

Alliance Defending Freedom, which focuses on protecting the religious liberty of Christians, has also represented churches that challenged COVID-19 restrictions on large group meetings during the pandemic. 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service. 



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24 thoughts on “Two Evangelical Seminaries Sue to Block Vaccine Mandates”

    1. When I was in law school at Big City U in 1988, I was told I had to get a measles booster because a (minuscule in comparison to today) measles outbreak was taking place. It never occurred to me to object to same, because I grew up with my mother telling me how she’d missed a year of school due to measles. And then she’d go on and talk about how awful polio outbreaks were (she was 15 when the Salk vaccine was released.) So, basically, I’m saying that vaccines are an unalloyed good, you probably had a dozen just to get into school, and to be very very very blunt, if you don’t have your vaccines, you’re a danger. You could ask my mom, but she’s 81 and she’s hard of hearing, which started when she was six and had measles. *scowl*

      Oh, and PS, the vaccine mandate is not unlawful. One could very seriously make an argument that full vaccination is necessary for the national defense.

      1. If you are vulnerable: old, infirm, immunocompromised, get vaccinated, or stay at home. If you are not, I don’t see how it is anyone else’s business. Besides, I’d be wary until a real vaccine came out, rather than a rushed experiment.

        1. Funny, you never said that about the polio vaccine, which also had a very rushed development history.

          Again, the intellectual dishonesty and inconsistency of the anti-vaxxers is astounding.

          1. Given that research to create a polio vaccine started in the 1930s and there was no viable treatment until the 1950s doesn’t seem very rushed.

            You also forgot to mention the Cutter Lab debacle. They forgot to kill the virus and actually infected children with a live polio virus. There were deaths and many paralyzed as a result. The number was small in comparison. The cost of doing business?


            The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to a Growing Vaccine Crisis
            Reviewed by Michael Fitzpatrick
            Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer

            In April 1955 more than 200 000 children in five Western and mid-Western USA states received a polio vaccine in which the process of inactivating the live virus proved to be defective. Within days there were reports of paralysis and within a month the first mass vaccination programme against polio had to be abandoned. Subsequent investigations revealed that the vaccine, manufactured by the California-based family firm of Cutter Laboratories, had caused 40 000 cases of polio, leaving 200 children with varying degrees of paralysis and killing 10. etc ….

          3. @ Andrew

            I wasn’t aware so many cases of polio came from that major manufacturing mistake.

            Another thing about the vaccines mentioned is they contain a dead virus. Not so with the mRNA vaccines. We have decades of medical experience and records detailing how “dead virus” vaccines work. Again, not so with the mRNA vaccines.

  1. This is destroying our country and our churches. We should not be encouraging nor discouraging others to get this vaccine. It is a personal health decision. Health decisions have become political decisions overnight. It is sad.

    Listened to Aaron Rodgers statements on the Pat McAfee show. Aaron hit the false narratives on the head.All the arguments used against these decisions have syllogistical problem.

    The statement that Covid-19 has become an issue for “white” evangelicals is racist and is actually a multicultural issue. There are many evangelical black and hispanics who are just as concerned. The belief or concerns on these mandates are not race based, but conviction based.

    As this relates to the seminaries, I disagree that vaccines are to be encouraged by our educators. What should be encouraged (if one is asked for their opinion) is this is a topic for you and your healthcare provider. Biblical convictions are too subjective and there is not an objective clear biblical mandate on this topic. Discernment is needed.

    1. Chris, I was wondering why the article cited a survey of white evangelicals. It seems racist to me too, especially when there are certain areas of the country where some minority groups have low vaccination rates for various reasons, not necessarily connected to religious practice.

      1. White evangelicals is much studied and powerful voting block. Many respected organizations, like Pew Research Center, have been using this designation for years. These same groups study the behavior patterns of other religious ethnicities too.

        1. Why ‘white’ (a color) and not ‘Caucasian’ (an ethnotype)? We just perpetuate the race game at every turn.

          1. Yes, race and ethnicity are different. (That’s how one can be a Black Latino). But how would saying “caucasian evangelicals” make the point any better?
            To Julie’s point, white evangelicals have been a very specifically defined voting block since the 70s, and that was BY THE DESIGN of many conservative leaders in partnership with churches and Christian leaders (e.g., Pat Robertson….read just about any book on the rise of the Moral Majority).
            I say this as someone who is a Black evangelical (but I very rarely say this due to the political connotation and racial undertones).

  2. Sabrina S DeCarlo

    Mohler and the other school are right to call this mandate out for what it is, coercion. To take a vaccine or not is a CHOICE, and all individuals have that freedom to choose.

    Whatever your opinion, whatever you think of it, we cannot lose sight of this–

    We have the FREEDOM to choose.

    That is why “mandates” based on coercion are wrong.

    1. You always have a choice. There are anti-vaxxers who don’t even have the ALREADY REQUIRED vaccinations (MMR, tetanus, etc); that’s fine. And they live with those consequences (not being able to enroll in public schools, etc) accordingly by having their own communities and schools.
      Freedom to choose is not freedom from consequences.
      And don’t these schools have the freedom to choose what they require of students (e.g. codes of conduct, admissions requirements, etc. already exist)? What about that?

  3. If President Trump had not made a political issue of vaccinations all these legal ramblings and conservative folks and institutes fighting the vaccination would be much less. IMO this has become a political issue for many.

  4. The Immunization Schedule for children living in the U..S. can be fairly lengthy(see below)……..

    I find it comical that certain people will oppose the Covid-19 vaccine, but will then submit their children to the vaccines without a peep.,.

    MMR – Measles Mumps Rubella
    Hep A – Hepatitis A
    Hep B- Hepatitis B
    Tdap – Tetanus Diptheria Pertussis
    MenB – Meningococcal B
    MenA -Meningococcal A
    LAIV4 – influenza
    IPV -Polio
    RV – Rotovirus
    …. etc.

    Also for students coming from overseas, is there a requirement to receive certain vaccines before they can start their studies at the seminary…. just asking….

    1. Because religious people are incredibly gullible as a whole – and have been inflamed by the vortex of the anti-Christ world system to go absolutely crazy (in the technical sense…).

    2. Unless they come across the southern border by the tens of thousands. Then there is no vaccine mandate, and they are allowed to go anywhere in the country.

  5. Of course vaccines can be required for schools and workplaces when the danger of life-threatening illness is clear-cut, such as the polio vaccine in the 1950’s. If Ebola or other extreme threats reached our shores, even a rushed vaccine would be a sensible civic mandate when passed by constitutional legislation.

    That is not the case with corona virus. There are far too many problems with this drug concoction. And the level of danger from the virus does not warrant coercion, not even close. Prophylactic measures and treatments are abundantly available for vulnerable groups. Panicked reaction and the coercion of the whole populace are very wrong – to the point of evil.

      1. Except that she is incorrect. They require vaccines for Mumps and Hepatitis A and she is OK with that. Both have much lower death rates than COVID.

        1. The development of both vaccines took years not months. Hepatitis A took decades, and vaccination didn’t begin until 1995.

          Hep A vaccination is not required by all schools and workplaces or all states.

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