Catholic Diocese of San Diego will accept personal belief exemptions for students

CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The Catholic Diocese of San Diego will allow for COVID-19 vaccine exemptions for personal-belief reasons if a student chooses to not comply with the governor’s requirement. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October that once the FDA granted full authorization, students would be required to be vaccinated to attend public or private schools.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesperson for the diocese, said they are still urging the safety of vaccinations and underscoring their position on the best way to end the pandemic.

“Where the church stands is really straightforward. We think the vaccines are completely safe and ethical, and that there’s nothing about being Catholic that says you shouldn’t be vaccinated,” Eckery said. “In fact, the pope and others have been vaccinated and said that morally they think it’s the right thing to do because you need to look out for not just yourself but for others.”

This comes months after the diocese asked priests to “caringly decline” any religious exemption requests from parishioners. 

“There’s a couple of very big differences between religious exemption and personal belief exemption. The first is that there is no religious exemption in California law. Period,” Eckery said. 

Eckery cited a bill passed in 2015 that requires any vaccination mandate issued by the health department to include a personal belief-exemption if the requirement did not move through the legislative process.

“Unless the law changes, and the law establishes there is a personal belief exemption, we’re going to respect that. That if a parent or a guardian says, ‘No,’ we’re not going to challenge them on that,” he said.

Under state law there are currently 10 vaccines mandated for students to attend public and private schools, with only medical exemptions accepted. State law does not accept religious or personal belief-exemptions for the ten that have been voted on by the Legislature. 

“That same law however also says if they add an 11 or 12 to the list, without consulting legislature, then there has to be a personal belief-exemption,” Eckery said. “All we’re doing is following the law, and the law is really clear.”

The governor’s office expects the first vaccine deadline for 7-12 grades to be July 1, 2022. It’s still unclear how he plans to implement the vaccine mandate for school children to attend in person classes. 

Districts like San Diego Unified have announced their own requirements, stating students 16 and older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 20, 2021 to continue attending school in person. 

The diocese said their decision has nothing to do with what other districts have decided and they underscored their position on vaccinations.

“There’s nothing to prevent people from getting vaccinated, but there’s going to be this stipulation that is a personal belief exemption, not a religious exemption. We’re simply going to follow the law and if someone requests it, we’re going to approve it,” Eckery said.

The decision by the Diocese of San Diego impacts 50 schools totaling about 15,000 students. 

KUSI’s Hunter Sowards was live from the Diocese of San Diego with more.

Categories: Coronavirus, Good Evening San Diego, Local San Diego News