President Joe Biden rankled more than a few feathers earlier this month when he announced sweeping measures ostensibly to curb the spread of COVID-19. One of these measures included a rule compelling companies to require their employees to take the vaccine or be subjected to weekly COVID testing.
This particular rule has been the primary source of controversy. Many argue that it is a blatant overreach on the part of the federal government. But other aspects of the measure have raised questions pertaining to religious exemptions. There appears to be confusion on the matter.
The trouble with religious exemptions
The Los Angeles Times reported that more workers are seeking to use religious exemptions to avoid having to take the vax. Indeed, Nicholas De Blouw, an employment attorney, told the newspaper that he was receiving calls “every single day” from people trying to subvert vaccine mandates.
The Supreme Court ruled that vaccine mandates are Constitutional. However, the ruling did not allow employers to infringe upon their employees’ religious beliefs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires companies to make “reasonable accommodations” for workers with “sincerely held” religious beliefs that do not allow one to take a vaccination.
This will place companies in a tricky situation. How exactly does one determine whether one’s religious objections to the vaccine are “sincerely held?”
The fact that a person’s religious belief does not necessarily have to be recognized by an organized religion to qualify muddies the issue even further. Moreover, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s rules state that the belief can be unusual or “seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”
The Associated Press reported:
“Many major religious denominations have no objections to the COVID-19 vaccines. But the rollout has prompted heated debates because of the longtime role that cell lines derived from fetal tissue have played [and a connection to abortions], directly or indirectly, in the research and development of various vaccines and medicines.”
It is also worth noting that while most major religions don’t explicitly forbid the use of vaccines, individuals could interpret their particular religious tradition in a way that compels them to avoid taking them.
What happens next?
Many companies were already mandating vaccines. These include Amtrak, Cisco, Citigroup, CVS Health, Delta Air Lines, and plenty of others. Some businesses that were not requiring injections were already planning to impose such a measure in the future.
Regardless, at this point, it is safe to assume that religious exemption claims will increase. As the government enforces President Biden’s executive order, there can be no doubt that those among the 80 million Americans who remain unvaccinated will view it as a way to avoid taking the jab. This means we can expect some rather creative interpretations of various religious traditions in the near future.
It is also worth pointing out that Biden’s order does not seem likely to make much of a difference when it comes to persuading unvaccinated Americans to take the jab. Many of these individuals are willing to lose their jobs over the issue. Even more people would bite the bullet when it comes to taking weekly COVID tests. But at this point, it seems clear that the debate over vaccinations is far from over.