Religious exemptions increase as COVID-19 vaccine mandates increase


An estimated 2,600 Los Angeles Police Department employees are citing religious objections in an attempt to evade the required COVID-19 vaccination. In Washington state, thousands of state employees are asking for similar exemptions.

And in Arkansas, one hospital has been inundated with so many such requests from employees that it apparently calls their bluff.

Religious objections, once used sparingly across the country to be exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against COVID-19 shooting.

And it’s only likely to grow as a result of President Joe Biden’s new vaccination mandates covering more than 100 million Americans, including executive employees and workers at companies with more than 100 on the list. payroll.

The administration recognizes that a small minority of Americans will use – and some may seek to exploit – religious exemptions. But he said he believed even marginal improvements in vaccination rates would save lives.

It is not known how many federal employees have requested a religious exemption, although union officials say there will be many requests. The Ministry of Labor said an accommodation can be refused if it places an undue burden on the employer.

In the United States, mask and vaccine requirements vary, but most offer exemptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections. The use of such exemptions, especially by parents on behalf of their schoolchildren, has increased over the past decade.

Compensation was enshrined in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who object to job demands because of “genuine” religious beliefs.

A religious belief does not need to be recognized by an organized religion, and it may be new, unusual, or “seem illogical or unreasonable to others,” according to rules established by the Equal Opportunities Commission. ‘use. But it cannot be based solely on political or social ideas.

This places employers in the position of determining what is a legitimate religious belief and what is a dodge.

Many major religious denominations have no objection to COVID-19 vaccines. But the deployment has sparked heated debate due to the long-standing role that cell lines derived from fetal tissue have played, directly or indirectly, in the research and development of various vaccines and drugs.

Catholic leaders in New Orleans and St. Louis have gone so far as to call Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot “morally compromised.” J&J pointed out that there was no fetal tissue in his vaccine.

Additionally, the Vatican Doctrine Office said it was “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on research using cells derived from aborted fetuses. Pope Francis himself has said it would be “suicide” not to get vaccinated, and he was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer formula.

In New York, state lawmakers attempted to make the vaccine mandatory for medical workers, without religious exemptions. A federal judge on Tuesday barred the state from enforcing the rule to give a group of workers time to argue it’s illegal because they don’t have the option to opt out.

Andrew Kurtyko, a registered nurse, is among those who want a religious exemption not to be vaccinated, and he is preparing to leave New York for Florida with his 18-year-old daughter if necessary.

Kurtyko said the “draconian” vaccine requirements in the United States reminded him of communist Poland where he grew up before he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1991. He is a Catholic who thinks that fetal stem cells have been tested to make the vaccine. He called Pope Francis’ advice to get the vaccine “his own opinion.”

“My parents came to this country to live better and crossed the ocean,” Kurtyko said. “The least I can do is fight for myself and my family and go to a different state where religious exemptions are still honored … . Our rights are violated.

In the United States, officials, doctors and community leaders have tried to help people bypass COVID-19 mask and vaccine requirements.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Pastor Jackson Lahmeyer offers a “religious exemption” form on his church website for download, along with links for church donation suggestions. The 29-year-old is running for the US Senate as a Republican.

Anyone interested can have the form signed by a religious leader, or Lahmeyer can sign it himself if the person joins the church and makes a donation. He said more than 35,000 people downloaded the form in just three days.

“We are not anti-vaccines. We are just for freedom, ”Lahmeyer said. “A lot of these people who signed up… have already taken the vaccine. They just don’t think it’s fair for someone else to be forced or lose their job.

But getting a religious exemption is not as simple as producing a signed form. Measles outbreaks in schools over the past decade have prompted some states to change their policies. Some now require a signed affidavit from a religious leader, instead of an online form. California got rid of non-medical exemptions in 2015.

Some employers take a hard line. United Airlines last week told its employees that those who get religious exemptions will be put on unpaid leave until new coronavirus testing procedures are in place.

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Michel Moore said he was awaiting advice from the city’s personnel department on how to deal with exemption requests. The city demanded that city workers get vaccinated by Oct. 5, unless they are granted a medical or religious exemption. A group of LAPD employees are pursuing this policy.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned those seeking exemptions: “We will not tolerate the abuse of these exemptions by those who simply do not want to be vaccinated. To anyone considering making a spurious exemption request, I urge you to reconsider your decision. “

In Washington state, approximately 60,000 state employees are subject to a warrant issued by Gov. Jay Inslee that they must be fully immunized by October 18 or lose their jobs, unless they get medical or religious exemption and receive housing that allows them to remain employees.

As of September 14, more than 3,800 workers have requested religious exemptions. So far, 737 have been approved, but officials have stressed that an exemption does not guarantee continued employment.

Once the exemption is approved, each agency must assess whether the employee can still do the job with accommodation while ensuring a safe workplace. So far, seven accommodations have been granted.

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

In Arkansas, about 5% of staff at Conway’s private regional health system have requested religious or medical exemptions.

The hospital responded by sending employees a form listing a bevy of common drugs – including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H and Tums – which it says were developed or tested using fetal cell lines.

The form asks people to sign it and certify that “my sincere religious belief is consistent and true and I will not use or will not use” any of the drugs listed.

In a statement, Conway Regional Health President and CEO Matt Troup said, “Staff who are sincere… should not hesitate to accept the list of listed drugs. “

Associated Press editors Zeke Miller, Carla K. Johnson, Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar Sean Murphy, Stefanie Dazio, Brady McCombs and Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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