Our nation is built on the freedom and responsibility of citizens to decide what is best for them. Mandating a COVID-19 vaccine would erode that foundation.

Brett Salkeld, theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina in Saskatchewan, said the morality of vaccination “depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good.” But it is still each human’s God-given right to listen to conscience rather than fall victim to mandatory orders.

Do not get me wrong. The coronavirus vaccine is essential to defeating this pandemic. The path is herd immunity. Government and public health officials need to promote and encourage the safety and necessity of the vaccine because it will take a majority of Americans to be vaccinated. The vaccine is the fastest and safest way to move our country in a positive direction.

But does that outweigh a violation of foundational freedoms?

The Catholic Church strikes a good balance. It encourages the vaccine for those who need it most and promotes its safety but dares not take control of an individual's decision. Given that several vaccines were tested and developed using aborted fetal cells, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clearly teaches that Catholics may refuse vaccination for reasons of conscience.

But let’s be clear. The church’s acceptance of these vaccines does not justify abortion. The church approved because those who get the shots would be involved in only remote material cooperation with evil instead of a formal cooperation.

In his article, “How to Vaccinate Like a Catholic,” Salkeld writes, “According to Catholic teaching, [there is] only one category of cooperation with evil that is ever permissible. And even that one, known as ‘remote material cooperation with evil,’ may only be justified by proportionate reasons.” There are two defining factors that determine its permissibility. The first is that it is material, meaning there is no intent for evil in the cooperation. Here Salkeld gives a helpful example: “[You] may give someone money, by paying their wage or buying their product or giving alms, without intending the evil they will do with that money.”

The second requirement is that it is remote, meaning the cooperation did not lead directly to the act of evil. The remoteness of a decision is not fixed but is on a scale that can be hard to distinguish.

Ultimately, the church has decided that it is “morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) when a more ethical vaccine is not available.. There are three reasons for the remoteness in this case. First, the abortion or miscarriage was not done just to establish the cell line, but was happening anyway. Second, the cells already existed and were not created for this experiment. Last, this was a test of the vaccine, not the production of the vaccine — though the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine die use fetal cells for production.

There are loud calls for a vaccine that does not create problems of conscience for health care providers and patients. In fact, there are dozens of vaccines currently being developed and many of which did not have recourse to fetal cell lines in testing or production. I pray for their success.

It is a dangerous misunderstanding to think that abortion is not a big deal. It is. The vaccine is what is justified, not the abortion. A central observation of the Christian faith is that God can bring good out of evil After all, God brought eternal salvation to humans out of the sin of those who crucified Jesus Christ. Today, God still works to bring good out of evil and often surprises us. This does not mean that evil is good. It means, rather, that God is good.

But, Catholic or non-Catholic, if an American citizen refuses to be involved even with remote material cooperation, that decision should be accepted.

There are other valid reasons for refusing the vaccine. Many black and Indigenous Americans are skeptical because of mistreatment and abuse from the scientists in the past Above all is the uncertainty of the long-term effects of the vaccine, since it was developed so quickly.

According to Dr. Simon Gold from American Frontlines Doctors, the technology used to create the vaccine has never been used before. In addition, there are no published animal studies available. To force citizens to take the vaccine, without more certainty and time for extensive testing, is not an ethical route. Our ultimate goal is to protect lives. That goal includes ending the pandemic but we cannot rush the process at the expense of other possible health issues. For the sake of freedom and even good sense, a U.S. mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine is a bad idea.

Angelo is a junior at Central Catholic High School in Southeast Portland. In a joint chemistry and history project, teachers John Guthrie and Nathan Patla helped students explore the questions of vaccines and morality.