Requirements For Religious Exemptions
And How To Write An Exemption Request
The recently released executive order from President Biden called for thousands of businesses to implement a mandatory vaccination policy. Although the order provided many details about why the mandate would help the United States bounce back from damage done by COVID-19, it avoided to provide specific details like; who would be responsible for associated costs, timeline employers will need to meet requirements and had no mention whatsoever of exemptions or accommodations.
In this article, we'll be answering the following questions:
- What is a Religious Exemption for COVID Vaccine?
- Examples of Religious Exemption for Vaccines?
- Will a Religious Exemption for COVID Vaccination hold up?
- What are the Requirements for a Religious Exemption for Vaccination?
- How to Write a Religious Exemption Letter for Vaccines?
- For Human Resources: Religious Exemption for Vaccines Form
What we know for sure about exemptions is that there are two possible types of exemptions to be considered; medical, religious and philosophical. Every state offers medical exemptions, but not every state allows religious exemptions for vaccines. Currently, only six states in the country do not allow religious exemptions:
- New York
- West Virginia
In a recent case, a New York judge ruled that religious exemptions would be allowed in the stat regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
In this article, we'll be discussing religious exemptions specifically.
1. SO WHAT EXACTLY IS A RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION?
A religious exemption is a formal request submitted by someone subject to a vaccination requirement to be excused from that requirement. Religious exemptions are a difficult subject to navigate, especially if you’re on the receiving end of the request. The difference between religious and medical requests is that medical requests are much easier to prove with medical records and tests performed by medical professionals. Someone’s spiritual or religious beliefs are much more difficult to prove, which makes them much easier for people to claim and less likely to be approved.
If not for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religious exemptions may have never been a factor we needed to consider when it came to mandatory vaccinations. This act protects employees from discrimination against their race, sex, ethnicity, national origin and most importantly in this case, religion.
What really contributes to lines being blurred is that the validity of each individual exemption request is determined by one’s employer and each employer can individually determine what is considered valid or sincere as well as what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Although religious exemptions are legally allowed thanks to the EEOC, it’s very common for employers to be skeptical of a request’s legitimacy.
When employers are in a position to
In a recent study, a professor from the University of Colorado, noted that despite a decrease in religiosity among Americans, there has been an increase in religious exemption requests for vaccination, implying that these exemptions are "no longer serving their original purpose."
"In this context, there are some distinct challenges because many of the people who are filing religious exemption requests have never refused vaccines before. This is the only vaccine they object to, and, the nature of their objection isn't truly religious. It's more of a personal belief exemption that they are trying to shoehorn into the religious exemption channel,” Mello said.
"Now, that doesn't require church attendance. It doesn't require that you've tithed to a recognized denomination or that you have a letter from your clergy person. It does require that you articulate an argument that is religious in nature and not more generally about your personal beliefs,” Mello said.
There is also a portion that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says gives the right to an employer to deny a religious exemption for what's called "undue hardship."
2. EXAMPLES OF VALID RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS:
Although the volume of religious exemption requests has increased, no major religions have come out with an objection against the COVID-19 vaccine. The best and most common example of a potentially qualifying religious exemption is related to one of the largest ongoing church vs. state conversations in the U.S; abortion. If the vaccine was created or tested using the cell line of an aborted fetus, someone could argue exemption due to religious beliefs. A long history of the use of cell lines derived from fetal tissue in relation to the research and development of many vaccines and medicines has prompted questions about the COVID vaccine.
The Catholic church had originally questioned whether cell lines from fetal tissue had been involved in the development of the vaccine, but in the same breath said it would be “morally acceptable” to get the vaccine if it were the only option available. It’s been verified that the vaccine is not linked in any way to the use of any cell lines from fetal tissue.
Pope Francis himself said that not getting the shot would be “suicude” and has been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine himself. Pretty bold words from the pope, but this statement speaks volumes to the validity of religious exemption requests from more people than ever before.
3. WILL A REQUEST FOR EXEMPTION HOLD UP IN COURT?
To answer the question short and frankly, most likely not. Exemption requests that have progressed to a legal case court have a high rate of failure. Just this past week, a preliminary injunction against the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s vaccine requirements was denied by a federal judge.
REQUIREMENTS FOR A RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION:
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that regardless of how legitimate or untraditional a religion may appear, employers are required to take all religious exemption requests seriously and assume the request is sincere.
As far as what’s required of the employee, we know they need to prove seriously held religious beliefs that getting the vaccine would conflict with, but how do they do that? There are a number of ways that someone can prove strongly held religious beliefs that getting the vaccine would contradict.
- Writing a formal letter requesting exemption
- Getting a close friend, family member or fellow member of the clergy to write a letter.
- Most employers will not require or factor this into your determination, but it likely wouldn’t hurt your chances of approval, so including it in your request may be worth a try.
- Filling out and submitting a religious exemption request form:
- Your employer may or may not provide a form for you to fill out. If not, there are many templates available via a simple Google search. We’ve also attached an example form for you to download and fill out at the bottom of this article.
4. WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that employers generally should assume that each request received by any employee is sincere and should be thoughtfully reviewed for consideration. Although employers must carefully review each request, regardless of how traditional the religion may or may not appear to be, they are not required to accept any requests. Should an employer deny a request, they must explore all reasonable accommodations as an alternative.
Employees do NOT need to prove the religion to be a legitimate organized religion observed by a large group, but they do need to prove the religion or religious belief they're claiming to be seriously held for a substantial amount of time prior to submitting the request.
For starters, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that employers generally should assume that a request for a religious exemption is sincere, regardless of how untraditional the religion may be or appear to be. The EEOC also says that an employee seeking an exemption does not need to show that they are scrupulous in their observance.
5. HOW TO WRITE A RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION REQUEST
Although religious exemptions are quite difficult to get, it’s not completely impossible. Depending on your employer’s policy, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of getting your request approved.
- Write a formal letter of objection to vaccination
- Have a close friend, family member or fellow member of your religion write a letter supporting your statement of objection to the vaccine
- Fill out an exemption request form. Your employer may or may not provide one for you. If they do not, there are templates you can find online. We’ve provided a request form template for you to download and fill out here.
We've created a religious exemption form template for you to download and use at your company.
Download our Religious Exemption Request Template to offer your employees
We'll email you a link to the template, so that you can easily download and share it with your team.
Would you like to try incentivizing employees to get vaccinated, ahead of the vaccine mandate?
Get in touch with a member of our team to learn more about our newest product, the vaccine and testing tracking solution!