What Are the Requirements for a Religious Exemption During Vaccine Immunization?
Anti-vaccination and COVID-19 vaccine doubters are feeling economic pressure as they feel their beliefs being crushed, so some have turned to religion as a last resort.
Employers are increasingly forcing their workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination if they want to keep their jobs. However, there appears to be an increase in the number of unvaccinated people who are aware that claiming a “religious exemption” might help them avoid receiving the vaccination.
The phrase “sincerely held” religious beliefs is legal jargon that refers to language in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If a person’s “sincerely held” religious beliefs do not place an undue burden on the employer, employers must make ”reasonable accommodations” for those beliefs.
“Unnecessary difficulty’ may sound like a fuzzy term that might lead to a legal quarrel. But what about “sincerely held” religious convictions? Where is the line between genuine and insincere, exactly?
What the Law Says
For one thing, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers should typically assume that a request for a religious exemption is genuine, regardless of how strange or unusual the religion may appear to be. The EEOC adds that an employee seeking a religious exemption does not need to demonstrate that they are meticulous in their practice.
However, the EEOC instructs that if an employer wants to pursue it further, “evidence indicating that an employee engaged in conduct inconsistent with his stated religious beliefs is, of course, relevant to the factfinder’s assessment of sincerity.”
The EEOC adds three more concerns to the mix: inconsistent conduct, unsatisfactory performance, and prior negative employment history.
- Whether the accommodation will provide a unique advantage that is sought for non-religious reasons, such as an ocean view.
- Whether the timeliness of the request is suspect.
- Whether the employee is being asked to provide a religious exemption when the employer has reason to believe that the accommodation is not requested for religious reasons.
Why Do Some Christians Oppose Vaccinations?
The following are examples of the Christian refutations against COVID-19 vaccinations:
The first topic is the link between vaccines and abortion. Although the vaccines do not include fetal cells, they were developed and manufactured with some use of fetal tissue, which was obtained from an aborted fetus at various stages of vaccine production and development. This is an unpleasant and sensitive subject, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has a detailed explanation of it here.
Second, Biblical quotations are thought to be relevant to immunizations, such as 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.”
The downloadable boilerplate exemption letters
Some churches and pastors are mailing out form letters to their congregants or any other individual asking them to apply for a COVID-19 exemption.
For example, Pastor Greg Fairrington of Crystal Cathedral Ministries in Southern California is offering them to anybody who signs up for an online application on the church’s website by pledging that they are a “born-again Christian who believes in Scripture.”
Others, on the other hand, appear to be more opportunistic than genuine.
Pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, a GOP candidate for Senate in Oklahoma, is urging parishioners to chip in money to his church so they may receive a letter opposing vaccination requirements. For example, the form letters are available for free on his church and campaign websites, but Lahmeyer claimed that for those letters to have “any force,” individuals must join the church online as members and donate at least $1.
“Anita Martir Rivera, a Texas evangelist who has been arrested for fraud and weapons charges, offers them ‘free,’ asking for $25,” the website reports. “Donations’ are accepted in several currencies.”
According to Mat Staver, founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, a right-leaning Christian legal advocacy group in the United States, his organization has received over 20,000 requests for religious exemptions in recent weeks. The newspaper also stated that as a result of mandates requiring vaccination for government workers in Arizona’s Tucson,’291 employees submitted requests.’
Despite the fact that many Evangelical congregations are opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations, no significant religious denominations do so. The Catholic Church, for example, has determined that it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to be vaccinated despite the vaccines’ reliance on fetal cell lines.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that a religious exemption may not be obtained to follow disputed teachings, saying that it must be made on a personal basis. Many people have said they will seek a religious exemption. The National Catholic Bioethics Center says that as the mandates have grown, so has an interest in its vaccination exemption template letter, which it made available on July 2.
Tough Choices for Businesses
So, what does this imply for employers? At the same time, they wish to avoid workplace disputes (and the potential of a lawsuit) over necessary adjustments while also ensuring that their workplaces are as safe as possible by not allowing unvaccinated workers to work alongside vaccinated ones.
In many situations, it implies they must determine whether requests are genuine or a subterfuge.
If an employee requests a medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccinations on the basis of a need, the employer should follow up with documentation from a medical professional.
When it comes to religious exemption requests, lawyers say the next stage is not as straightforward.
“Employers still need to engage in the interactive process to determine what the practice entails and if someone else’s belief is sincere or not. But I cannot tell you that what you sincerely hold as a religious belief does not exist, so that’s a potential challenge,” Sadie Banks, assistant general counsel at Engage PEO, a human resources and benefits provider, told CBS News.
According to CBS, labor and employment attorney David Reisman said that he’s noticed an increase in employers being more demanding with the requesters.
“They are becoming more brazen about asking for supporting information, like a note from a religious leader,” he stated.
A labor attorney Carrie Hoffman with Foley & Gardner told CBS News, that simply saying, “I believe in God, I can’t get vaccinated,” is not enough. “There has got to be some kind of explanation that’s better than that.”