Religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccinations are reportedly on the rise as a result of the likewise increase in vaccination mandates from states forcing companies and private schools to require it of employees, teachers, students, staff, and volunteers. This is not to mention the federal government requiring government employees themselves to be vaccinated.
WISN Channel 12 said requests for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise "as more companies require vaccines." NBC Chicago said Illinois is one of the states that have required certain groups to take COVID-19 vaccines with given deadlines such as October 15 for the city of Chicago. While some states require vaccination for both public and private schools on the college level.
These mandates are said to be an offshoot of the COVID vaccine of Pfizer-BioNTech receiving full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday, a matter projected by President Joe Biden's former COVID Response Coordinator Andy Slavitt in July.
The Prinz Law Firm pointed out such a requirement for vaccination are part of an employer's obligation to "ensure they provide a safe and healthy work environment for workers" as indicated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act and as determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latter two agencies have determined COVID-19 as a "direct threat" to workplace security giving companies the right to require employees to be vaccinated and even "terminate" an individual who refuses to do so but "with certain exemptions." One of the exemption that safeguards an individual's employment despite refusal from vaccination is the religious exemption under the Civil Rights Act of 1964's Title VII. Medical reasons such as "allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine" is another exemption.
In line with such an obligation required of an employer, dioceses who run Catholic schools have also required their teachers, staff, and volunteers to be vaccinated like the Archdioceses of Portland and Wisconsin following state mandates on vaccinations. Both archdioceses, despite such a requirement, safeguard religious exemptions in the light of the church "teaching on the sanctity of conscience."
"We encourage those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to do so because it is the most effective way to combat this virus. We are all morally responsible to protect our lives and the lives of others. This is an imperative of natural law that we treasure in our faith," the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said in a statement.
"However, the Church also treasures her teaching on the sanctity of conscience: 'In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life'," the statement continued.
"Nobody should violate the sanctity of conscience by forcing a person to do something contrary to his or her conscience. There are many health or ethical reasons why a person may refuse COVID-19 vaccination."
"We understand the urgency of this pandemic and the frustration some may experience because of the number of unvaccinated people; but even when someone's decision may look to others as erroneous, conscience does," the statement stressed.
Similarly, the Archdiocese of Portland cited individuals "seeking an exemption of conscience" that may include the vaccines' "remote connection with aborted fetal cell lines." But the Archdiocese of Portland clarified that such exemptions will be "sincerely considered on its merits and on an individual basis" and must use the religious exception" form provided by the Oregon Health Authority.
Labor Attorney Sarah Platt, however, raised that religious exemption claims are not automatic and really do require a "legal balancing act" since there is a need to determine whether those claiming them actually do hold such religious beliefs.
"It becomes a challenge to navigate, to make sure that you are respecting the rights of people who have sincerely held religious beliefs. Also making sure that those are, in fact, sincerely held religious beliefs," Platt pointed out.
Slate raised religious beliefs should not be arbitrary where Christian pastors use personal claims as basis for filing claims on religious exemptions. Slate cited two incidents such as that of a California pastor purporting vaccines as "unclean" and directed members of his congregation to file for religious exemptions.
Another involved a Tennessee Baptist Global Vision Bible Church pastor alleging "elites" were pushing for the use of the vaccines even though they were only "injecting themselves with sugar water" in public such that he told his congregation that he can write them a "religious exemption, and we will sue their stinkin' pants off!"