CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Responding to concerns from employees in both the public and private sector about workplace requirements regarding COVID-19 vaccines and a desire to express their religious objections to such requirements, The Rutherford Institute has issued guidance and an in-depth fact sheet and model letter for those seeking a religious exemption to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the workplace.
“For good or bad, COVID-19 has changed the way we navigate the world and the way in which ‘we the people’ exercise our rights. As a result, we find ourselves grappling with issues that touch on deep-seated moral, political, religious and personal questions for which there may be no clear-cut answers,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “One thing is clear, however: while the courts may defer to the government’s brand of Nanny State authoritarianism, we still have rights. The government may try to abridge those rights, it may refuse to recognize them, it may even attempt to nullify them, but it cannot erase them.”
Daily, growing numbers of public and private employers are requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and using the threat of termination to force acceptance of the vaccine. Unfortunately, legal protections in this area are limited. While the Americans with Disabilities Act protects those who can prove they have medical conditions that make receiving a vaccination dangerous, employees must be able to prove they have a sensitivity to vaccines. The requirement established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employers provide religious accommodations may be invoked by employees who have sincere religious beliefs against receiving vaccinations. But an employer’s duty of accommodation is not absolute, and if it can show that accommodating the worker’s objections to vaccinations will interfere with its operations or workplace safety, the employee may face the choice between keeping her job or violating her religious beliefs.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. Title VII further defines religion broadly to include not only beliefs, but also religious practices and observances. As a result, the federal employment discrimination law forbids discharging an employee because the employee chooses to engage in certain conduct, or not engage in certain conduct, that is a part of the employee’s religious beliefs and practices, and holds that someone cannot be discriminated against by their employer based on their religion unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business. Although there have been very few cases that have dealt specifically with Title VII’s ban on employment discrimination based on religion in the context of religious objections to vaccines mandated by the employer, it appears established that if an employee holds sincerely-held religious beliefs in opposition to receiving a vaccination, an employer that has a rule requiring that vaccination must reasonably accommodate the employee’s beliefs. For an employee who objects to an employer’s vaccine requirement, the first step is to give notice to the employer of the religious objection to receiving the vaccine. To this end, The Rutherford Institute has provided a model letter (see below) for use in requesting a religious exemption from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the workplace.
About the Rutherford Institute
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.