The term “conscientious objector” first arose after the United Kingdom Vaccination Act of 1853 resulted in a conscience clause being added in 1898 that allowed exemption from mandatory smallpox vaccinations for infant children. So the origin of the phrase was directly attached to resisting government mandated vaccination.
But then, three years later in 1901, a smallpox epidemic swept through the North Eastern U.S. resulting in vaccination being mandated for all adults. Again the mandate was challenged, just as it was in the UK earlier, but in February 1905 the Supreme Court ruled that “a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” The only exemption allowed was “reasonable certainty” that vaccination for a person would “seriously impair his health or probably cause his death.”
The safety of the general public, therefore, trumped all objections to vaccines, the only exception being an individual who would likely suffer serious adverse effects from the vaccine, including the risk of death.
And from that point on the battle lines were drawn. On the one side were the “anti-vaxxers,” like the Anti-Vaccination Society of America, whose argument against vaccines was based on nature being the “greatest safeguard against disease.” To them natural immunity trumped vaccine induced immunity, and any attempt at enforcing vaccines was a threat against individual liberty and freedom of expression.
On the other side, following an objection in 1922 to state laws requiring children to be vaccinated before attending public school, the court unanimously declared that “it is within the police power of a state to provide for compulsory vaccination.” In other words, the state knows best when it comes to public health and safety, and it must have the power to enforce what it believes is best too. In 2002 a federal court reinforced that ruling by refusing any exemptions to state mandates on public health, including religious beliefs, and even denying parents the right to decide what’s medically best for their children.
Seventeen years later, in 2019, a measles outbreak in the New York area created a public health emergency which fined unvaccinated people if they didn’t comply with mandatory vaccination. No exemptions were allowed and therefore no conscientious objections either. Public safety came first, again.
And government had Scripture on its side to support that too, because public safety is what God instituted human government for (Romans 13:1-4). So, is there ever room in Scripture for conscientious objectors?
Well, yes, the obvious one being when government isn’t fulfilling its God-given duty to protect its citizens from harm and evil. A clear case in point being Ephesians 4:14, when government itself has fallen victim to being “carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit]” (from the Amplified Bible).
And what better example of that today than governments supporting drug companies promoting vaccines with no data on long term effects, and no acceptance of liability for any other adverse effects either? So much for “public safety.” It also borders on severe abuse if governments then mandate these vaccines for children, and especially when the harmful effects on healthy children are known.
So who’s out there with the authority to challenge governments on this? Well, it’s those in the same boat as government, who’ve also been given the job by God to know the tactics of evil and conscientiously resist them (2 Corinthians 2:11). So, just as government has the right to nail church denominations for abuse against children, why can’t its most conscientious ally, concerned Christians, call on the government to remember its God-given duty to protect the innocent too? So that both parties are now being motivated by the hope that together the two groups God has representing his will and purpose on this planet can make a serious dent in erasing evil.
God wants us both, Christians and government, to conscientiously object to evil and harm in whatever form it pops up its ugly head in. And when either party feels powerless against evil, then we turn to God for help, just as Britain’s king in World War 2 called for a National Day of Prayer when the forces of evil were too great for Christians and government to resist.
Does Scripture support conscientious objectors? Yes, and especially among members of government whose God-given civil duty is to expose and resist “the cunning and trickery of unscrupulous men, and the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything for personal profit.” For the public’s safety.