Yesterday, my friend Jon Hyman blogged about fetal stem cells and vaccine-mandate religious exemptions.
TL;DR. Any employee that refused the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines because they contain aborted fetal cells is full of 💩. They don’t. Consequently, any religious exemption request that an employee may make on that basis is objectively wrong.
I’ve got a recent case to prove it.
With a shout-out and congratulations to my formers colleagues at Dilworth Paxson, check out this recent order denying a student’s petition for a preliminary injunction.
The plaintiff was a rising third-year student at a local private school of approximately 265 students learning a technical trade. He claims that the school engaged in unlawful religious discrimination when it failed to exempt him from its mandatory vaccination policy.
The school did provide students who objected to the COVID-19 vaccine the opportunity to request an exemption from the vaccine. The plaintiff applied for an exemption to the vaccine policy, requesting that the school accommodate what he presented as a sincerely held religious belief that the COVID-19 vaccine was developed from aborted fetal cell lines and, as such, obtaining the vaccine would violate the teachings of his Catholic faith.
Two problems here: (1) the COVID-19 vaccine was NOT developed from aborted fetal cell lines, and (2) the Catholic church has deemed it morally permissible to receive the vaccine.
Actually, there was a third problem for the plaintiff. That is, he previously complied with the school’s immunization policy, obtaining various vaccines to protect against meningitis, measles-mumps-rubella, tetanus, hepatitis-B, some or all of which
were vaccines that he knew to have been developed by using aborted fetal cell lines.
There are several reasons why the plaintiff’s case failed. For example, he did not exhaust his administrative remedies by first filing a complaint with the state’s human relations commission. But, substantively, the court denied the injunction request, concluding that the factual context “informs the sincerity–or lack thereof– of the professed “religious” exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Plus, the school had a legitimate basis to deny the request, namely, to protect the health and safety of the other students and staff. Meanwhile, because it had granted exemptions for different sincerely held religious beliefs, the plaintiff was not able to establish that denying his request was a pretext for religious discrimination.
If your business is going to mandate vaccinations, it must allow for the possibility of religious accommodations. Therefore, when an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, the company must provide an accommodation that allows that individual to perform the essential functions of the job if it can do so without creating undue hardship on the company.
However, a company need not rubber-stamp employee requests for religious accommodations. Indeed, it’s ok to be skeptical. As Jon points out, a company need not accommodate purely philosophical or political objections.
While it can be tough to distinguish between philosophy, politics, and religion, rely on objective facts and context to help weigh credibility and guide your decision to accommodate.