NORTHFIELD, Ohio — Thousands of business leaders across the United States are waiting for more details to emerge from the White House when it comes to enforcing President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. It affects businesses with 100 or more employees, about 2/3 of the private sector.
But in the meantime, some Northeast Ohio employers have already implemented mandates, which has led to a spike in religious exemption requests.
Jeff Tauring is the pastor of Liberty Valley Church in Northfield.
“We are an independent bible teaching church. We, at Liberty Valley Church, are for liberty,” he said.
Tauring said there are 200-300 people that attend Liberty Valley’s services and they’re guided by God, not the government or private employers.
“Not only do we deserve the exemption from the vaccine,” he said. “But, then, we would also deserve to be exempt from any discrimination from not taking the vaccine.”
In the front lobby of the church sits a stack of letters that parishioners can take to their employers. The letter states why they are against the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There are multiple avenues that would encompass a religious exemption,” he said. “Jesus tells us not to be deceived.”
Tauring said mixed messaging throughout the pandemic from public health officials regarding masks, the vaccine’s efficacy and the time it takes to slow the spread should be enough for a religious exemption.
“It’s our job as Christians to be discerning and make sure we are not deceived. Anyone who has the charge of not being deceived is going to question that,” said Tauring.
But in addition, he said a big reason their church is against the vaccine is because of their stance on abortion.
“It’s unethical to test with babies that are murdered,” he said.
The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines do not contain fetal cells or tissues. However, fetal cells were used in the early testing stages of the mRNA vaccines and the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Blake Veglia is not a member of Liberty Valley Church, but he is also pro-life.
“If they’re going to be using aborted fetal cells to make something, that is something I never want to be a part of or put into my body,” Veglia said.
Veglia left his job as a nurse at Akron Children’s Hospital in September, but his new employer also has to comply with President Biden’s vaccine mandate or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
“They're forcing people to have to take a medical procedure or inject something into their body that they downright just don't want to do,” he said. “I feel like this isn't a matter of vaccine or not vaccine, I feel like this is a matter of freedom and human dignity.”
Veglia requested a religious exemption from his employer and is waiting to hear back if it was accepted or denied. He said, either way, he will not be getting the vaccine.
“I don’t feel like the government or these organizations should have the right to say what is or isn’t against someone’s religion,” he said.
But according to employment attorney Matt Besser, with the law firm Bolek-Besser-Glesius, private companies can legally deny religious exemptions.
“The law on this is actually pretty unfavorable to employees who want an accommodation,” he said.
Besser said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Ohio law protects people from religious discrimination, but it takes a broad view of what ‘sincerely held religious belief’ means.
He said the exemption should be granted if an employee has a sincerely held religious belief or practice that precludes them from getting the vaccine, unless it would pose an undue hardship to the employer’s business.
“So what does that mean? It means that if granting the accommodation is going to create a health and safety risk for coworkers, then by and large, the employer is not going to have to just allow the employee to keep working shoulder to shoulder unvaccinated with their coworkers,” he said.
He said the ‘undue hardship’ clause under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is a lower bar for employers to prove in court than it is in some other areas of the law, for instance, employees with a disability.
“Of all the calls we've gotten, I'm yet to see a case that I thought had a reasonable chance of success,” he said.
He said to him, it seems like some people are using the ‘religious exemption’ as a way to get out of getting vaccinated, but it is not a ‘sincerely held belief.’
To read more about what employers can and cannot do, click here.