Religious exemptions rise as COVID-19 vaccine requirements rise

An estimated 2,600 LAPD officers cite religious objections in an effort to refuse the necessary COVID-19 vaccinations. In Washington state, thousands of civil servants are seeking similar benefits.

And in Arkansas, the hospital has been inundated with so many requests from staff that they seem to consider them a bluff.

Religious objections, which were once rarely used across the country to exempt various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against COVID-19 vaccination.

And it is likely to grow only after President Joe Biden announces the introduction of new vaccines, reaching over 100 million Americans, including executives and workers in businesses with more than 100 paychecks.

The administration recognizes that a small minority of Americans will use – and some may try to use – religious benefits. But he believes that even a small improvement in vaccination rates will save lives.

It is unclear how many federal employees have asked for religious exemptions, although union officials say there will be many such requests. The Labor Department said that housing can be refused if it creates an undue burden on the employer.

States have different requirements for masks and vaccines, but in most cases there are exceptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections. The use of such benefits, especially by parents on behalf of their students, has grown over the past decade.

The benefit was enshrined in the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act, which states that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who object to job requirements because of “sincere” religious beliefs.

Religious beliefs do not have to be recognized by organized religion, and they may be new, unusual, or “seem illogical or unfounded to others” in accordance with the rules set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But it cannot be based solely on political or social ideas.

This puts employers in the position of defining what is a legitimate religious belief and what is a gimmick.

Many major religious denominations do not oppose the COVID-19 vaccine. But the deployment has sparked heated debate over the long-standing role that fetal-derived cell lines have played directly or indirectly in the research and development of various vaccines and drugs.

Roman Catholic leaders in New Orleans and St. Louis have gone as far as calling Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccination “morally compromised.” J&J emphasized that there is no fetal tissue in her vaccine.

What’s more, the Vatican’s doctrinal office said it was “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on research that used cells from aborted fetuses. Pope Francis himself said that refusing the vaccine would be “suicide” and he was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer formula.

In New York, state legislators have tried to make the vaccine mandatory for healthcare providers with no religious exemptions. On Tuesday, a federal judge barred the state from enforcing the rule to give a group of workers time to say it was illegal because it had no refusal option.

An AP-NORC poll in August found that 58% of white Protestant evangelicals, 72% of mainstream white Protestants, 80% of Catholics and 73% of non-religious Americans said they had been vaccinated. Seventy percent of non-white Protestants say they were, including 70 percent of black Protestants.

Across the United States, government officials, doctors and community leaders have tried to help people get around the COVID-19 mask and vaccine requirements.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Pastor Jackson Lameyer is offering a “Religious Exemption” form for download on his church website, along with links to proposed church donations. A 29-year-old man is running for the US Senate as a Republican.

Anyone can get a form signed by a religious leader, or Lameyer can sign it himself if the person joins the church and makes a donation. He said that over 35,000 people downloaded the form in just three days.

“We are not opposed to vaccines. We’re just advocating freedom, ”Lameyer said. “Many of these people who signed … have already been vaccinated. They just don’t think it’s right that someone is being forced or forced to lose their job. “

But getting religious exemption is not as easy as providing a signed form. Measles outbreaks in schools over the past decade have prompted some states to change their policies. Some now require an actual signed affidavit from a religious leader instead of an online form. California dropped non-medical benefits in 2015.

Some employers are taking a tough line. United Airlines told employees last week that those who receive religious benefits will be sent on unpaid leave until new coronavirus testing procedures are introduced.

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Michelle Moore said he was awaiting guidance from the city’s human resources department on how to handle release requests. City officials have ordered municipal employees to be vaccinated by October 5 unless they are granted medical or religious exemptions. A group of LAPD employees are suing over politics.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned those seeking benefits: “We will not tolerate abuse of these benefits by those who simply do not want to get vaccinated. To anyone who is thinking about making a disingenuous request for release, I urge you to reconsider. “

In Washington state, approximately 60,000 government employees are mandated by Gov. Jay Inslee to be fully vaccinated by October 18, or to lose their jobs unless they receive medical or religious exemption and housing that allows them to stay. employees.

As of Tuesday, more than 3,800 workers have applied for religious exemptions. So far, 737 people have been approved, but officials stressed that the tax exemption does not guarantee continued employment.

Upon approval of the exemption, each agency must assess whether the employee can still perform residential work while providing a safe workplace. At the moment, seven residential premises have been provided.

Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said the process “can help distinguish a sincere personal belief from a sincere religious belief.”

In Arkansas, about 5% of employees in the Conway private regional health care system have applied for benefits for religious or medical reasons.

In response, the hospital sent staff a form listing many common drugs, including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Drug H, and Tums, which it said were developed or tested using fetal cell lines.

The form asks you to sign it and confirm that “my sincere religious beliefs are consistent and true and I do not use or will not use” any of the medicines listed.

In a statement, Conway Regional Health President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Trope said: “Sincere employees … should not hesitate to agree on a list of listed drugs.”

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