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How Religious Exemptions Work

Employers have a right to assess the sincerity of the belief, not the accuracy or validity.

ABC NEWS – Individuals’ rights to claim a religious exemption from immunization is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, as seen in some states, this right can be overruled in the interest of public health.

In the wake of the 2019 measles outbreak in the states of New York and Washington, where most cases were reported among the unvaccinated, the states eliminated religious exemptions.

In the face of a religious exemption application, employers or schools have the right to probe the exemption and question the applicant. In other words, it is on them to assess the sincerity of the belief, not the accuracy or validity.

Employers can require their employees to explain the basis of their belief in detail and don’t need to accept a cursory attestation to grant the exemption, Reiss said.

“You can’t try and assess if the belief is rational,” Reiss clarified. “You can ask them a tough question to gauge sincerity.”

“It then often comes down to individual interpretations of scripture that lead to religion-based anti-vaccine beliefs.”

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However, employers cannot discriminate in favor of organized religions and hence aren’t allowed to request letters from clergy or priests as proof.

Employees’ rights to challenge accommodations provided by their employer are also protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with whom they can file an official complaint.

Employers can maintain high proportions of vaccinated individuals and still make accommodations for those with sincere religious beliefs as demonstrated by the Conway Regional Health System.

But allowing religious exemptions on the basis of how convincing the justification is, Reiss explained, is problematic because it opens the door for people who’ve attended anti-vaccine workshops or “people who are just better liars” to game the system.

Building trust for vaccinations

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