Key Findings

  • 39% of college students do not think institutions should allow religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine
  • 60% of students who oppose religious exemptions say public health is more important than freedom of religion
  • 60% of students in favor of religious exemptions believe it is a Constitutional right
  • 14% of unvaccinated students claimed a religious exemption to avoid their school’s vaccine mandate; 1/3 got it

The 2021-22 academic year is underway, and for many colleges, COVID-19 vaccination requirements are a key part of the strategy to keep their students, staff, faculty, and communities safe from the ongoing pandemic.

However, institutional vaccination mandates don’t necessarily mean everyone gets vaccinated.

According to an NBC News analysis of more than 800 U.S. colleges with COVID-19 vaccination mandates, 80% allow religious exemptions.

To find out how students themselves feel about this potential loophole, in September Intelligent.com surveyed 1,250 current college students about whether they support or oppose religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Students who oppose religious exemptions say public health trumps religious freedom

Overall, 61% of college students support religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine, while 39% oppose them.

Opposition is higher among students who don’t identify as religious, with 54% saying religious exemptions should be banned.

Sixty percent of all students who don’t think schools should allow students to claim a religious exemption for the COVID vaccine say it’s because public health is more important than freedom of religion.

Religion not being an effective alternative to modern medicine (46%) and the inability to determine the validity of one’s religion (38%) are also at the top of the list.

Nearly half of independent voters favor banning religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine

Because of the highly politicized nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, we also asked students which political party they support. We found independents are least in favor of religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine.

Forty-six percent of students who identify as independent support such a ban, compared to 35% of Democrats, and 30% of Republicans.

For independents who oppose granting religious exemptions, the top reason is their validity can’t be proven (44%).

Among Democrats who want religious exemptions banned, the top reason is because public health is more important than freedom of religion (60%). This is also the primary reason Republicans cited for their opposition to such exemptions (48%).

Students who practice Eastern religions most likely to support religious exemption bans

When broken down by specific religions, Sikhs are most likely to say religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine should be banned (47%). They are followed by Buddhists (44%), Hindus (38%), and Christians (34%).

Support for bans is lowest among Muslim (26%) and Jewish students (11%).

The reasons for opposing religious exemptions vary by religion. Fifty-four percent of Sikhs and 60% of Hindus say there isn’t a way to prove exemptions are valid. The most-cited reason for Buddhists (41%) and Christians (64%) is public health is more important than religious freedom.

Students point to Constitution in supporting religious exemptions

For students who think religious exemptions should be allowed, the main reason is that freedom of religion is a Constitutional right (60%). Fifty-six percent support these exemptions because immunization may conflict with genuine and sincere beliefs, while 51% believe that focused prayer can prevent or cure diseases.

The right to freedom of religion that’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution is often given as a reason why certain behaviors or practices should be allowed; according to 75% of Democrats and 59% of independent students, this is why they support religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine.

However, among Republican students, the top reason why they are in favor of religious exemptions is that immunization may conflict with genuine and sincere religious beliefs (73%). By comparison, only 49% of students in this group selected religious freedom as a reason why colleges should offer these exemptions.

3 in 10 religious students oppose COVID vaccine exemptions on religious grounds

Sixty-eight percent of students surveyed identify as religious. Among these students, 32% don’t think schools should allow students to claim a COVID vaccine exemption based on their religion.

Despite actively practicing a religion, 49% of these students believe protecting public health supersedes their religious freedom. Thirty-seven percent support banning religious exemptions for vaccines because religion isn’t an effective alternative to modern medicine, and 36% say there isn’t a way to prove the validity of a religious-based exemption.

Among the 68% of religious students who think schools should allow religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine, 65% point to the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom in the U.S. Sixty-three percent support such exemptions because immunization conflicts with genuine and sincere religious beliefs, while 60% believe focused prayer can prevent or cure diseases.

Non-religious students try to avoid vaccination by requesting religious exemptions

The majority of college students are already vaccinated against COVID-19. In fact, students who identify as religious are more likely to have been vaccinated than students who aren’t religious, by a rate of 76% to 58%.

When it comes to trying to avoid getting vaccinated at institutions requiring the shots, non-religious students are more likely to claim a religious exemption than students who are religious, by a rate of 17% to 11%.

However, students who actually are religious were more successful in receiving exemptions. Overall, 39% of those students were granted an exemption, compared to 28% of non-religious students who tried to get a religious exemption.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 current U.S. college students were surveyed. Appropriate respondents were found via a screening question. This survey was conducted over a two-day span, starting on September 8, 2021 and ending on September 9, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Julia Morrissey at [email protected]