"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," they wrote.
They said that the "introduction of vaccine passports would constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent."
The British government is considering using "COVID-status certificates," also known as vaccine passports, to ease the opening of venues such as theaters and sports stadiums where people are packed together for long periods of time. It has also been suggested they would be used for restaurants and some shops.
The full letter and its full set of signatories were published by News Punch.
In the letter, the church leaders warned that vaccine passports could lead to the rise of a surveillance state. (Related: Chicago pastor warns about orchestrated efforts to destroy the Church, conservatives.)
"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," they wrote.
They also noted that people may have valid reasons for being unable or unwilling to be vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). This would include "serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing" for some Christians.
Describing the proposal as "dangerous," the signatories wrote: "As Christian leaders we 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.' 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."
The group, which was comprised of Anglican, Protestant and Catholic leaders, said the plan made "no logical sense in terms of protecting others."
"If the vaccines are highly effective in preventing significant disease, as seems to be the evidence from trial results to date, then those who have been vaccinated have already received protection; there is no benefit to them of other people being vaccinated. Further, since vaccines do not prevent infection per se even a vaccinated person could in theory carry and potentially pass on the virus, so to decide someone's 'safe non-spreader' status on the basis of proof of their immunity to disease is spurious," they wrote.
Just recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told the Cabinet Office that vaccine passports being considered by ministers risked creating a "two-tier society."
The EHRC said vaccine passports could be a "proportionate" way of easing restrictions but said they risked further excluding groups among whom vaccine take-up is lower – including migrants, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and poorer socioeconomic groups.
Professor David Albert Jones, the head of the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Center, said vaccines must be taken with "free and informed consent" and that vaccine passports could violate this principle.
The bioethicist noted that vaccines are medicines and are subject to the ethical requirements for medical treatment.
"It is the person who bears the immediate risk of receiving or of not receiving the treatment and hence, if a person is able to provide consent then medical treatment must not be given without obtaining consent. Furthermore, the validity of this consent is undermined if it is coerced," he said. "Imposing vaccines without consent would violate the right to bodily integrity."
Jones said that it is important to distinguish the question of whether people have a duty to do something and the question of whether the state has a right to enforce such a duty.
"It may well be that wealthy individuals have an ethical duty to donate to charity, especially in a time of great need. However, what distinguishes charitable donation from taxation is precisely that charitable donations are voluntary and are not compelled by the state," Jones said.
He explained that there will come a point where encouragement becomes coercion and where exclusion from benefits becomes punitive. "The more extensive the scope of these measures, in relation to activities included and people affected, more likely they are to constitute unethical coercion," he said.
Jones also expressed fears that vaccine passports would disproportionately impact different populations. (Related: LA Times columnist admits vaccine passports will 'single out' vaccine skeptics, 'break the resistance down.')
"It is clear that vaccine reluctance is more of a challenge within some communities, some of which already suffer from social and economic inequality and discrimination," he said.
"To impose a divisive policy that would fall more heavily on these communities requires strong proportionate reason in comparison to less divisive means of encouraging vaccine take up and in comparison with other means to open up the economy safely."
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