A lot of people have been asking me about religious exemptions to the safe and effective Covid vaccines. I’ve spoken to folks in hospitals, in upper management at vaccine developers and big pharma, firemen, lineworkers, politicians, and other lawyers. Lots of lawyers.
I think everybody’s missing the point.
Here’s what I see going on. Most big employers are providing online forms for employees to “request” a religious exemption. The forms don’t give any instructions or say what should be in the request. Watch out. These forms are a kind of a trap; what the employers are really doing is gathering evidence.
If I were an unethical federal lawyer planning how all this would be rolled out, I would say that the first step would be to get people to commit to their religious exemption story in writing before anyone catches on. The second step would be to bring them into HR, one by one, without counsel, and interrogate employees about what they said in the form. You’d want HR to have a religious expert and a doctor in the room to help with the interrogation.
The HR meeting is not to try to approve the exemption request. It’s to protect the employer by developing evidence that your religious belief isn’t really sincere. It will go like this. The employee will say something like, “I’m pro-life and there are fetal stem cells in the vaccines.” Then the doctor will say, “well, did you know there aren’t any stem cells in the vaccines? That’s misinformation,” and he would pull up some website. Then — all while being recorded — they’d ask the employee, “so, you don’t REALLY have an objection, do you?” I guess not, the employee will say, and bingo, just like that, the employer is covered, with evidence, if there’s a lawsuit later.
So, let me tell you what the REAL standards are. And first, let me say that I do NOT encourage anyone to assert a fake religious exemption request. It must be legit. But, the first principle you need to know is that a qualifying sincerely-held religious belief can be recently acquired. There’s no particular amount of time you must have held that belief. It could have popped into your head ten seconds ago. For example, in EEOC v. Ilona of Hungary, Inc., 108 F.3d 1569, 1575 (7th Cir. 1997), the court found that a Jewish employee had proved her request for leave on Yom Kippur was based on a sincerely held religious belief, even though she had never in her prior eight-year tenure sought leave from work for a religious observance, had even conceded that she generally was not a very religious person, but the evidence showed that the recent birth of her son and the death of her father had strengthened her religious beliefs.
So, get your head right, your butt to church, and start reading your Bible. Which you should be doing anyways.
Next, you don’t have to be devout or even openly religious. The law is clear that a sincere religious believer doesn’t forfeit his religious rights merely because he is not scrupulous in his observance or had never openly demonstrated those beliefs in the past.
The Supreme Court has found that a qualifying religious belief is one that is “sincerely” held. This is critical: it doesn’t have to be tied to any particular scripture, fact, or reasoning. In Anderson v. U.S.F. Logistics (IMC), Inc., 274 F.3d 470, 475 (7th Cir. 2001), the court held that an employer could not stop an employee from using the phrase “Have a Blessed Day” as a greeting in her work emails, even if the use of the phrase was not expressly required by her religion (Christian Methodist Episcopal) and was totally unique to her.
In Heller v. EBB Auto Co., 8 F.3d 1433, 1438 (9th Cir. 1993), even the liberal Ninth Circuit said this:
“To restrict the act to those practices which are mandated or prohibited by a tenet of the religion, would involve the court in determining not only what are the tenets of a particular religion, . . . but would frequently require the courts to decide whether a particular practice is or is not required by the tenets of the religion. . . . [S]uch a judicial determination [would] be irreconcilable with the warning issued by the Supreme Court in Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S 67 (1953) ‘[I]t is no business of courts to say . . . what is a religious practice or activity.’”
That doesn’t mean you can come up with any old crazy idea like the Flying Spaghetti Monster told you so. The belief must have at least SOME religious foundation in order for it to qualify as a sincerely held religious belief that is required to be accommodated. Apart from that, the sincerely held belief will be very broadly interpreted and shouldn’t be investigated for TRUTH. In United States v Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944), for example, the U.S. Supreme Court held that whether a religious belief is true or false should NOT be taken into consideration.
Another important source of law in this area is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). You might scan it so you know what your rights are under that act.
🚨Remember: the religious exemption request “form” you are being asked to fill out is designed to gather evidence AGAINST YOU. Here’s what I suggest you consider including in such a request:
Even though you aren’t required to have been actively religious, if you have been, tell them. How often do you go to church, read your bible, pray? How much have you tithed or donated over the years? When were you baptized? Are you a member of a church? Do you attend a bible study class? Did you previously request a religious exemption for your kids relating to school vaccines?
Tell them your general beliefs about having been created perfectly and living your faith by trusting in God and not man.
— You don’t have to cite ANY scripture. Especially any scripture about vaccines. If you ARE going to cite scripture, you might consider focusing on verses having to do with making moral choices and about avoiding evil people.
— You DON’T need a note from a pastor. It might be helpful if you can get it, but it is not necessary. I was astounded yesterday when someone told me that, when they asked, their pastor said, “there are religious exemptions?” Pope Francis apparently said that Catholics can take vaccines if they believe it is moral. All that tells me is that priests and pastors have their own religious convictions about vaccines. But they aren’t the final authority. God is.
— Do NOT try to be an armchair theologian. It is enough if you prayed about it and determined that God doesn’t want you to take the safe and effective vaccines. You don’t have to prove your encyclopedic biblical knowledge.
— While — as you guys know — I am a Christian, in no way are religious rights and liberties limited to Christianity.
Next, here are some thoughts for how to handle the inevitable HR meeting to discuss your religious exemption request:
— Be confident and upbeat. Fear is the enemy. Pray before or even during the meeting.
— Emphasize the sincere and unwavering nature of your religious belief.
— Don’t let them talk you out of your sincerely-held belief with facts. Truth or falsity of the belief isn’t the issue when it comes to spirituality. For His own reasons, God won’t let himself be “proven” to exist. Beliefs aren’t things that even CAN be proven true or false. People believe all kinds of crazy things against evidence. For example, some people even believe that Fauci is a sentient, moral being. See?
— Don’t engage in theological debates with anyone. Agree to disagree. THEIR beliefs are irrelevant. It’s YOUR beliefs that matter.
— If your belief is newly-acquired, admit it. Just stress how sincerely held it is. Maybe offer the reason that you recently acquired the belief: was it watching so many people live in fear? Something on the news? A death or illness in your family or circle of friends or co-workers?
— Always remember that the interview is being held to gather evidence to defend your employer against a subsequent lawsuit for religious discrimination. It’s not about the form, or “approving” your request. They aren’t trying to help you. So pick your words carefully, thoughtfully, and don’t talk too much.
— Tell the truth.
🚨 Remember facts aren’t final. If you previously said your belief was about fetal cells, and it still is, stick to your guns. Don’t let some doctor or website tell you something different than your religious belief.
— Finally, if you’re an evangelical like me, this meeting would be a great opportunity to witness. Those people need to be saved more than anybody. And you’ll have their rapt attention and their focus on spiritual issues. I’m convicted that He wants us to try to use this chance to save a few more souls. So go for it like we’re in Revelation 6 or something.
The religious exemption is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. Religious liberty is fundamental in this country. If your employer fires you, or discriminates against you in ANY BURDENSOME WAY because of your religious belief that you aren’t supposed to accept the safe and effective vaccines, then you can sue them for substantial damages and recover your attorney’s fees. Don’t let them steal those rights from you through clever wordplay or tricks.
For additional information about Religious Exemptions visit the Florida Family Policy Council.
UPDATE: On September 14, a New York federal court granted a temporary injunction of the Department of Health’s vaccine mandate for 17 health care workers who’d brought the suit. The workers raised a First Amendment challenge to the mandate, arguing that their sincerely held religious beliefs precluded them from taking vaccines that were tested, developed or manufactured using cell lines from aborted fetuses. Shortly afterwards, New York state court judge Laurence L. Love also issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday barring New York City’s health department from requiring education workers to be vaccinated, on the same grounds.
Roger Gannam, an attorney with Orlando-based firm Liberty Counsel, has published a helpful online guide to asserting religious exemptions AND filing EEOC complaints against private employers who deny them. Link: https://lc.org/exempt.
If you didn’t know — as I didn’t — that aborted fetal cells were used in the testing and development of the currently-available vaccines, then you can supplement or enhance your previous religious exemption request that you’ve submitted, assuming of course that this an issue offensive to your sincerely held religious beliefs. Here’s a link to a source explaining the role of aborted fetal cells used in the vaccines: [You asked, we answered: Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells? | Nebraska Medicine Omaha, NE](https://www.nebraskamed.com/COVID/you-asked-we-answered-do-the-covid-19-vaccines-contain-aborted-fetal-cells).
The Nebraska Medicine website explains, “fetal cell lines – cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago – were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines, and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”