US pastors, advocacy groups mobilize against Covid-19 vaccine mandates

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NEW YORK: From the outside, the early harvest ministries in Waveland, Mississippi could almost be mistaken for a storage shed if it weren’t for the bell tower.
However, from the modest building, Shane vaughn, the Pentecostal church pastor, has helped spearhead an online movement promoting personal faith as a way to bypass the Covid-19 vaccine mandates in the workplace.
It publishes model letters for American workers seeking religious exemptions that have been downloaded from its website about 40,000 times, according to a screenshot of web traffic it shared with Reuters.
“This is the only way out,” said Vaughn, 48, of the letters, which he makes available free of charge, that mix biblical scriptures with warnings to employers about legal consequences if they are ignored.
As the Biden administration prepares a federal mandate on vaccines and more states and companies impose them to help accelerate the end of the pandemic, religious leaders’ letter-writing efforts are being bolstered by legal advocacy groups like Liberty Counsel. .
The organization said it has sent more than 100 letters to companies such as United Airlines Holdings Inc and Tyson Foods Inc promising to litigate if they improperly reject religious exemption requests.
United spokesperson Leslie scott He said the airline received the letter but that it had no impact on the company’s actions. Tyson did not comment on the letter.
United said that about 2,000 of its 67,000 American employees have applied for religious or medical exemptions. Tyson said only a “small percentage” of its more than 100,000 employees had requested religious or medical accommodations before the Nov. 1 deadline.
US employers are required by law to make reasonable job changes to accommodate a person’s religious beliefs, although they may seek information to determine whether the beliefs are religious in nature and “sincere.”
Many employers want regulators to provide guidance in examining waiver applications to help protect them from lawsuits that they allege were unfairly denied, he said. Roger king, from the HR Policy Association, a forum for large companies.
While few organized religions oppose vaccines, according to research from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, American law defines religion too broadly to include unknown belief systems with few followers.
‘Deal with them en masse’
Labor lawyers said that printed letters taken from the Internet could suggest that a person’s beliefs are not sincere, but that it would be difficult for an employer to determine that. Employers may have a stronger legal basis to reject exemption requests that are based on verifiable false statements about vaccines, the attorneys said.
“Requests for religious exemptions have been much rarer for years and now we are dealing with them en masse,” said Kimberly Harding, an employment attorney at Nixon Peabody, which advises companies.
Temple University Health System in Philadelphia, which employs 10,700 people, has already received 180 religious exemption requests, a significant increase from what it typically receives for its annual flu vaccination requirement, John said. Lasky, director of human resources of the system.
Some of the exemption request forms included letter attachments that used similar phrases, which Lasky said could indicate training, although he said they were not a determining factor in a request being granted.
What mattered was whether the person could articulate how their beliefs prevented them from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, as if they “linked it to eternal damnation,” Lasky said.
In at least one case, an employer reversed its decision to deny a religious exemption after receiving a letter from Liberty Counsel.
Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania told a nursing student on Sept. 7 that it was rejecting her application because it was based on a “factually incorrect” link between vaccines and aborted fetal cells, according to correspondence released by Liberty Counsel who wrote the name of the student.
A week later, Liberty Counsel sent a seven-page letter to Lehigh citing health officials in North Dakota and Louisiana who said there was a link between vaccines and fetal cells. The group required Lehigh to approve the student’s application or face “immediate litigation.”
He approved the request the next day. Lehigh did not respond to requests for comment.
A letter from Vaughn appeared in one of the few successful lawsuits against a vaccine mandate. Western Michigan University granted an exemption to a student athlete who used its charter, but he was still barred from participating in school sports until the court intervened.
Harry Mihet, an attorney for Liberty Counsel, said the Christian group receives thousands of messages weekly from people claiming they were denied an exemption request for inappropriate reasons. Those include that the person’s denomination supported the vaccines or that the Dad was vaccinated, neither of which is related to an individual’s beliefs.
“I think these employers run the risk of being involved in litigation until the kingdom comes,” Mihet said.
Vaughn, who served a three-year prison sentence for fraud and had a stint running a car dealership, said he now spends 80% of his day helping people with employer requests for more information, such as describing how an employee’s beliefs conflict with those of a hospital. vaccine policy.
Vaughn is encouraged by companies that reject his exemption letters. “They are making it difficult and adding layers to the process,” he said. “It’s proof that it works.”





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