Nearly 1,000 church leaders sign letter opposing vaccine passports

(Photo: Unsplash/John Cameron)

Some 948 church leaders have added their names to an open letter opposing the introduction of vaccine passports. 

The letter, to be sent to Boris Johnson and the devolved nations' first ministers, calls the introduction of vaccine passports "one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics".

The church leaders warn of a "medical apartheid" and "two-tier society" divided between those who have had the vaccine and those who have not. 

They argue that people should be free to turn down the vaccine on grounds of conscience, and that to do so should not exclude them from public life. 

They further state that they will keep their church doors open to all, regardless of whether they have had the vaccine or not.

Vaccine passports have been floated as a way of helping countries ease restrictions by requiring evidence that people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before they are allowed to enter public spaces like shops, theatres, restaurants and hotels.

Over 32 million people in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine, while over 7 million have had both jabs. The Airfinity tracker predicts that 75% of the population will be fully immunised by the first week of August. 

With the successful vaccine rollout bringing case numbers in the UK down to the low thousands, non-essential shops and outdoor dining resumed this week. 

The Government has expressed its openness to the introduction of vaccine passports, saying last week that they "could play a role in reducing social-distancing requirements". 

A poll by The Times has found strong public support for vaccine passports if it means the end of social distancing, but the church leaders are urging the Government not to go down this route. 

Setting out their opposition, they argue that "those who have been vaccinated have already received protection", rendering a vaccine passport unnecessary, but they also raise serious concerns about the impact on democracy and individual freedom. 

Vaccine passports, they say, would "constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent". 

"People may have various reasons for being unable or unwilling to receive vaccines currently available including, for some Christians, serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing," they said.

"We risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life.

"There is also a legitimate fear that this scheme would be the thin end of the wedge leading to a permanent state of affairs in which COVID vaccine status could be expanded to encompass other forms of medical treatment and perhaps even other criteria beyond that.

"This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens' lives.

"As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics." 

The letter has been compiled by Rev Dr Jamie Franklin, Curate of St George in the Meadows, Nottingham, Rev David Johnston, Minister Emeritus of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr William JU Philip, Minister of the Tron Church in Glasgow, Rev A Paul Levy, Minister of Ealing International Presbyterian Church, London, Rev Mez McConnell, Senior Minister of Niddrie Community Church, and Terence McCutcheon, Executive Director of the Hope For Glasgow Addiction Recovery Centre.

They "envisage no circumstances in which we could close our doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport, negative test certificate, or any other 'proof of health'", and hint of legal action if the Government should press ahead with the scheme. 

"For the Church of Jesus Christ to shut out those deemed by the state to be social undesirables would be anathema to us and a denial of the truth of the Gospel," they said.

"The message we preach is given by God for all people and consists in nothing other than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus, with the universal call to repentance and faith in him.

"To deny people entry to hear this life-giving message and to receive this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the Gospel.

"Sincere Christian churches and organisations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be compelled to resist any such Act of Parliament vigorously." 

The letter concludes by drawing attendtion to their recent judicial review that overturned the Scottish Government's ban on public worship during the lockdown on the grounds that it was disproportionate. 

"We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach," they say.

"We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society.

"We call on the government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever."