Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF
- Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul denied Monday that there are “legitimate religious exemptions” to the COVID-19 vaccine.
- “There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions have said there’s no legitimate reason,” the governor said.
- Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, U.S. employers are required to accommodate their employee’s “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul denied Monday that there are “legitimate religious exemptions” to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions have said there’s no legitimate reason,” the governor told reporters during a Monday morning briefing, “and we’re going to win that in court in a matter of days.”
The governor was referring to a lawsuit filed by a group of 17 health professionals represented by the Thomas More Society against New York and Hochul. The lawsuit accused the state of violating Title VII and Constitutional rights through its vaccination mandate and by disavowing religious exemptions.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York granted a temporary restraining order to the medical workers Sept. 14, barring the New York Department of Health “from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward.”
“What New York is attempting to do is slam shut an escape hatch from an unconstitutional vaccine mandate,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel attorney Christopher Ferrara said in a Sept. 14 statement. “And they are doing this while knowing that many people have sincere religious objections to vaccines that were tested, developed, or produced with cell lines derived from aborted children.”
Thousands of Americans are seeking religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, citing reports that some of the vaccines were developed using aborted fetal cell lines. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, U.S. employers are required to accommodate their employee’s “sincerely held” religious beliefs — including potential religious objections to a vaccine.
Earlier in September, Hochul told reporters that she was unaware “of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion,” dismissing the idea that healthcare workers could be religiously exempt from the state’s vaccine mandate.
“To the extent that there’s leadership of different religious organizations that have spoken, and they have, I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion,” Hochul said. “In fact, they’re encouraging the opposite. They’re encouraging their members, everybody from the Pope on down, is encouraging people to get vaccinated. So people will say what they choose.”
Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Roger Severino told the Daily Caller News Foundation at the time that neither the governor of New York nor or any employer has the authority to tell an individual what he or she believes.
If an employer rebutted the religious objection of a Catholic employee by pointing out that the pope urged Catholics to get vaccinated, Severino told the DCNF, that would amount to religious discrimination.
“For employers to say, ‘you are wrong’ about your own beliefs is a) arrogant and b) discriminatory because people are entitled to their own religious beliefs,” Severino said. “Even if they disagree with their own religious leaders.”
“Public institutions should not act like inquisitorial boards, quizzing people’s religious beliefs and trying to find holes because somebody has a different view of things,” said Severino, who is the former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “If separation of church and state means anything, it means that state institutions don’t second guess to try to resolve religious truths.”
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance warns that “whether or not a religious belief is sincerely held by an applicant or employee is rarely at issue in many types of Title VII religious claims.
Neither the commission nor the courts should “be in the business of deciding whether a person holds religious beliefs for the ‘proper’ reasons,” the guidance said, but they may examine whether the individual’s motives or reasons for holding the belief.
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