Oct 14 (Reuters) – From the surface, First Harvest Ministries in Waveland, Mississippi, might nearly be mistaken for a storage shed have been it not for the steeple.
From the modest constructing nonetheless, Shane Vaughn, the Pentecostal church’s pastor, has helped spearhead an internet motion selling private religion as a means round office COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
He posts kind letters for U.S. employees searching for non secular exemptions which have been downloaded from his web site round 40,000 occasions, in keeping with a display shot of internet site visitors he shared with Reuters.
“This is the only way out,” stated Vaughn, 48, of the letters, which he makes obtainable at no cost, that blend Biblical scripture with warnings to employers of authorized fallout if they’re disregarded.
Because the Biden administration prepares a federal vaccine mandate and extra states and firms impose them to assist speed up the pandemic’s finish, letter-writing efforts by non secular leaders are being strengthened by authorized advocacy groups reminiscent of Liberty Counsel.
The group stated it has despatched greater than 100 letters to corporations together with United Airways Holdings Inc (UAL.O) and Tyson Meals Inc (TSN.N) vowing litigation in the event that they improperly reject non secular exemption requests.
United spokeswoman Leslie Scott stated the airline acquired the letter but it surely had no affect on the corporate’s actions. Tyson didn’t touch upon the letter.
United stated about 2,000 of its 67,000 U.S. workers have requested non secular or medical exemptions. Tyson stated solely a “small percentage” of its greater than 100,000 workers had requested non secular or medical lodging forward of its Nov. 1 deadline.
U.S. employers are required by regulation to make cheap job adjustments to accommodate an individual’s non secular beliefs, though they will search data to find out if the beliefs are non secular in nature and “sincerely held.”
Many employers need regulators to offer steering for scrutinizing exemption requests to assist shield them from lawsuits alleging they have been wrongly denied, stated Roger King, of the HR Coverage Affiliation, a discussion board for big corporations.
Whereas few organized religions oppose vaccines, in accordance analysis by Vanderbilt College Medical Middle, U.S. regulation defines faith very broadly to incorporate unfamiliar perception programs with few adherents.
‘DEALING WITH THEM ON A MASS BASIS’
Employment attorneys stated kind letters taken off the web may recommend an individual’s beliefs usually are not honest, however it will be troublesome for an employer to find out that. Employers could possibly be on stronger authorized floor to reject exemption requests which can be primarily based on verifiable false statements in regards to the vaccines, the attorneys stated.
“Religious exemption requests have over years been much more rare and now we’re dealing with them on a mass basis,” stated Kimberly Harding, an employment lawyer at Nixon Peabody, which advises corporations.
Temple College Well being System in Philadelphia, which employs 10,700 individuals, has already acquired 180 non secular exemption requests, a big improve from what it often will get for its annual flu shot requirement, stated John Lasky, the system’s chief human sources officer.
A number of the exemption request types included letter attachments that used related phrasing, which Lasky stated may point out teaching, though he stated they weren’t a figuring out think about whether or not a request was granted.
What mattered was whether or not the individual might articulate how their beliefs prevented them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, reminiscent of in the event that they “tied it to eternal damnation,” Lasky stated.
In not less than one case, an employer reversed its determination to disclaim a non secular exemption after receiving a letter from Liberty Counsel.
Lehigh Valley Well being Community in Pennsylvania advised a nursing pupil on Sept. 7 it was rejecting her request as a result of it was primarily based on a “factually incorrect” hyperlink between vaccines and aborted fetal cells, in keeping with correspondence disclosed by Liberty Counsel that redacted the scholar’s identify.
Every week later, Liberty Counsel despatched a seven-page letter to Lehigh citing well being officers in North Dakota and Louisiana who stated there was a hyperlink between the vaccines and fetal cells. The group demanded Lehigh both approve the scholar’s request or face “prompt litigation.”
It accredited the request the subsequent day. Lehigh didn’t reply to requests for remark.
A Vaughn letter turned up in one of many few profitable lawsuits against a vaccine mandate. Western Michigan College granted an exemption to a pupil athlete who used his letter however was nonetheless barred from faculty sports activities till the court docket intervened.
Harry Mihet, an legal professional with Liberty Counsel, stated the Christian group receives hundreds of messages weekly from people claiming they’d an exemption request denied for improper causes. These embody that the individual’s denomination endorsed the pictures or that the Pope was vaccinated, neither of which have bearing on a person’s beliefs.
“I think these employers run the risk of being tied up in litigation until kingdom come,” Mihet stated.
Vaughn, who served a three-year jail sentence for fraud and had a stint operating an auto dealership, stated he now spends 80% of his day serving to individuals with employer requests for extra data, reminiscent of describing how an worker’s beliefs battle with a hospital’s vaccine coverage.
Vaughn is inspired by corporations pushing again on his exemption letters. “They are making it more difficult and adding layers to the process,” he stated. “It’s proof it works.”
Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Modifying by Noeleen Walder and Invoice Berkrot
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