Your Employer Requires a COVID Vaccine. You Object, Based on Your Religious Beliefs
What happens next?
COVID-19 vaccines do not stop the spread of the virus. In fact, those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated carry similar viral loads.
According to a February 2022 study in the New England Journal of Medicine:
“Although vaccination still lowers the risk of infection, similar viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated persons who are infected with the delta variant call into question the degree to which vaccination prevents transmission.”
Dr. Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, concurs. “Most studies show if you got an infection after vaccination, compared with someone who got an infection without a vaccine, you were pretty much shedding roughly the same amount of virus,” Hunter recently told a writer at the British Medical Journal (my emphasis).
Indeed, according to a CDC-sponsored study analyzing data from Israel, which is available as a pre-print, there is little to no difference in infectious virus loads between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.
A Needle in Every Arm
Although we know the vaccine does not stop the spread of COVID-19, there has been a global push to get a needle in the arm of every human on the planet, and many employers have told their workers that they “are required” to get vaccinated.
I sat next to a young African-American woman on an airplane last week who said she waited “until the last five minutes” to get the vaccine. She is a nurse. She did not want to get it because one of her patients, a healthy 30-something man, died of a heart attack the same day he got the shot. Her parents have decided not to get it. But even though she didn’t want the shot, she also didn’t want to get fired.
Colleges and universities are also making vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for matriculation.
Though your employer or college likely won’t mention it, if you do not want or need a COVID vaccine, you have options.
If getting the vaccination is medically dangerous or counter-indicated for you, you can have a doctor write you a medical exemption.
Or, if getting the vaccine flies in the face of your sincerely held religious beliefs, you can get a religious accommodation.
Legal Protection for Religious Beliefs
I’m not a lawyer. But my friend, who I’ll call Nancy, is. Nancy also happens to be married to a doctor and she has been researching the laws in order to help her doctor friends, lawyer friends, and colleagues get religious accommodation from their employers.
Like many of the best educated and most well informed people in America, Nancy believes the COVID-19 vaccine is a harmful and unnecessary experimental intervention that is not promoting human health.
(Me? I love it! I think the Seedy C is right and you should definitely absolutely get it, virtual signal about it on all social media outlets, and get a few extra pricks just for good measure! I mean, why not?!)
My insincerely held beliefs aside, if **you** object to vaccination because it conflicts with your sincerely held religious beliefs, Nancy recommends that you start by researching your individual state employment laws. Many states are considered “employment-at-will” states, which means that the employee or the employer have the right to terminate your employment for almost any reason that is not “wrongful.”
In an “employment-at-will state,” there will be little state law protection for employees seeking accommodation for religious beliefs.
However, though laws vary state to state, under federal law almost all employees are protected from discrimination in employment by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Title VII applies to all employers with 15 or more employees and prohibits employers from discriminating against you on the basis of your race, color, national origin, sex, or religion.
Under this statute, employers are required to offer their employees religious exemptions from vaccination, under most circumstances.
Is Your Objection a Religious One?
Title VII defines religion as “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief.” The definition of “religion” has been the subject of much litigation. If you’re an atheist, you will be heartened to know that the courts have clarified that religion does not require a belief in God.
Religious beliefs involve life, death, and purpose; they need not be provable, logical or supported by any religious leader.
However, other beliefs that are political, sociological, or philosophical are not considered religious in nature and are not protected by the statute.
How Do You Tell Your Employer You Object to the Vaccine on Religious Grounds?
Under Title VII, an employee must give the employer notice of the need for religious accommodation from the workplace requirement. No magic language is required. The employee need only let the employer know that an accommodation is needed and that the employee is requesting the accommodation because of a conflict between religion and work.
Put differently, you simply request an accommodation from your employer’s vaccination policy based on your religious beliefs.
What’s an Accommodation?
An accommodation is just an adjustment to the work environment that will alleviate the conflict between the work requirement and the employee’s religious belief.
Title VII requires employers make “reasonable accommodations” for employee’s religious beliefs. At the same time, however, the employer is not required to incur any “undue hardship.”
In the context of a workplace vaccination requirement, if an employer has accommodated a medical exemption for one employee, it would likely be deemed discrimination for that employer to then deny a request for a religious exemption from another employee.
How Do You Write Your Request for Accommodation for Religious Beliefs?
Your request for accommodation for your religious beliefs should clearly and simply state your religious belief and how that belief is not compatible with vaccination.
The request should be in your words and should, under no circumstances, be taken directly from the internet, as this could warrant an inquiry by the employer into the sincerity of your beliefs.
The request should only include your religious beliefs, not your political or social beliefs or preferences.
1. State your beliefs.
Most importantly, your belief must be of a religious nature and it must be sincere.
It doesn’t have to be part of an established or accepted religion.
In fact, the law doesn’t require that the belief even be logical or reasonable. It does not need to be true or provable. You don’t need a note from your pastor or religious leader. In fact, your religious leader doesn’t have to agree with your beliefs.
As an example, if you believe that man was created in the image of God and is perfectly designed and you also believe that God will protect you from future illness, you would state these beliefs and provide any Biblical references in support of this belief (although quoting the Bible is not required).
2. State the conflict between your beliefs and their vaccination policy.
There must be a clear conflict. So, you might write something like, “Giving a vaccine to a healthy person says that the human body is flawed and not perfectly designed by God. Receiving a vaccine would violate my faith that God is protecting me from future illness.”
Next, you will want to make it clear that because of this conflict your sincerely held religious belief would be violated and you cannot get this vaccine. Your religious beliefs will not allow it.
For example, “I am unable to take this vaccine because I believe that it would defy that the human body is created perfectly and in the image of God. I cannot violate my faith and deny God’s protection of me by getting this vaccine.”
Or, if you are opposed to abortion, you might say, “I am unable to take this vaccine because I believe that life is a gift from God and it is a violation of my beliefs to participate in the desecration of human life.”
What About Aborted Fetal Cells?
If you are opposed to abortion for religious reasons, you will want to include this in your request for accommodation. Currently, all three of the COVID-19 shots available in the United States used cell lines grown from aborted fetuses at some stage of development: research, testing, or production.
If using cell lines grown from aborted fetal tissue contradicts your sincerely held religious beliefs, include that in your letter.
But keep in mind that there may be a COVID-19 vaccine available soon that does not utilize aborted fetal cell lines, and many other vaccines, including the flu vaccine, have never used aborted fetal cell lines in their development.
What If Your Employer Questions You About Religious Beliefs?
Since COVID, many employers have created religious exemption forms asking lots of questions about the employee’s beliefs. Nancy says that if an employer gives you a form like this, one strategy is to answer every question with the words “see attached,” and then attach your religious accommodation request to the form.
Traditionally an employer has been allowed to make a “limited inquiry” to determine if the belief or practice is sincerely held and gives rise to the need for accommodation only if the employer has a reason to question the sincerity of an employee’s religious beliefs.
For instance, if an employee participated in the employer’s flu shot drive every year and now seeks a religious exemption. Or if the employee was known by the employer to be an atheist or agnostic and now claims to have religious beliefs.
Keep in mind, though, that these past behaviors are not always deal breakers and that typically, an employer would have no reason to doubt an employee’s claim. An individual’s beliefs can evolve over time.
People’s beliefs change. We do the best we can with the information we have at the time. When we get new information, we have the right to change our behavior—and our beliefs—based on that new knowledge.
You can find additional tips to getting a religious accommodation at the Georgia Coalition for Vaccine Choice.
If you need a lawyer to help you, Aaron Siri, Jim Mermigis, Kevin Barry, Michael Yoder, Paul Davis, and Brian Festa are all lawyers who may be able to help.
If you’re a doctor or other medical professional who needs help, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is a good place to start. If you’re a student who needs help, Cait Corrigan’s website, Students Against Mandates, is the best place to start.