Sunday, September 12, 2021

Religious Exemptions to the COVID-19 Vaccine

We have all been counseled to avoid discussing religion and politics in order to reduce the risk of a hostile encounter.  I recall being reminded of this maxim when dining with a new acquaintance many years ago.  My response?  ‘That’s all I like to talk about!’

I am writing this at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday and I’ve already had multiple conversations – both directly and electronically – with people in my life on both of these radioactive subjects.  As far as I know, all of the friendships remain whole.  Indeed, these debates and exchanges serve to fortify our friendships rather than to threaten them.

I recognized that discussing religion can be fraught for many individuals and might be best avoided for them.  Same with politics.  Many a thanksgiving dinner has been sullied by someone who decides to serve as the family turkey 

Look at the national response when a Colorado baker refused to bake a wedding cake for gay couple in 2012.  The cake shop owner claimed this violated his religious beliefs at a time that the state did not recognize same-sex marriage.

Praying for Wisdom

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided fuel for some to argue that the vaccine encroaches on their religious freedom.  Indeed, federal law provides for a vaccine exemption for a sincerely held religious belief.  (Individuals can also claim a medical disability exemption under the Americans with Disability Act.)  If the exemption claims are legitimate, then the employee is entitled to receive a reasonable accommodation at the workplace so long as this would not pose undue hardship on the employer.

While defining a medical disability can be somewhat objective, how does one define a religion?  This is murky terrain.  Try to do this yourself before reading further and you’ll see what I mean.

Here’s a summary statement on the definition of religion taken from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The presence of a deity or deities is not necessary for a religion to receive protection under Title VII.  Religious beliefs can include unique beliefs held by a few or even one individual; however, mere personal preferences are not religious beliefs.  Individuals who do not practice any religion are also protected from discrimination on the basis of religion or lack thereof.  

Seems rather a broad definition to me.  The courts will be charged with defining religion and they will need Solomonic wisdom to achieve this.  Might veganism or vegetarianism be religions?  Satanism?  Atheism? One man’s religion is another man’s cult.  All of this will be good news for discrimination lawyers whose prayers for prosperity have been answered.  


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