Recently, the North Pacific Union office of public affairs and religious liberty has heard from many people who are seeking to find ways to avoid the vaccine mandates that public and private employers are beginning to enact.
Customarily, church members can get religious exemption letters for matters such as Sabbath accommodation in the workplace or schools. However, because the official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church supports vaccinations, your local Adventist church, conference or union is not able to provide you an official exemption letter.
If you are seeking a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination, there are four important things to keep in mind.
- To qualify for a religious exemption, it must be based on a sincerely-held religious belief, not a personal or political opinion. While our office cannot provide an exemption letter on church letterhead, you can still provide your employer a personal letter that asserts your sincerely-held religious belief opposing vaccinations and explains that, under the law, it is not necessary that your denominational affiliation espouse the same belief.
- If an exemption is granted by the employer, it does NOT mean the employee gets to continue working normally without the vaccine. What is required is that the employer provide a reasonable accommodation to help the employee and others work safely without the vaccine; e.g., require wearing a mask, regular COVID testing, working in a different location or working remotely.
- If accommodating the employee causes an undue hardship to the employer, then they do not have to accommodate the employee and it can result in termination.
- Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, religious institutions — which could include health care — are exempt from granting religious accommodations since these organizations are, by identity, religious. However they still are required to accommodate for disability. So if you work in a faith-based health care system, a religious exemption request could possibly be denied.
Keep these four points in mind as you seek a religious exemption in the workplace. Even if you are granted an exemption, you need to be aware that your job will likely change in some way.