by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
Can you be forced to receive a vaccine even if it violates your religious beliefs and your conscience?
This is one of the most pressing legal and constitutional questions today, especially for people of faith in the workplace.
In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed religious employees facing violations of their legal rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against employment discrimination on the basis of religion and provides for religious accommodation in the workplace.
Perhaps one of the most visible examples is United Airlines. CEO Scott Kirby boasted about his company’s vaccine mandate and threatened employees “to be very careful about” requesting religious accommodations. He said those requesting an accommodation would be “putting their job on the line.” United employees went to court, after hundreds were either formally terminated or “accommodated” by being sent home without pay.
But even while there have been clear violations of Americans’ liberties and rights on the issue of vaccinations, there are reasons to remain hopeful and optimistic. The debate about the constitutionality or legality of vaccine mandates is not yet settled—but so far, these mandates have not fared well in court.
In the United Airlines case, for example, Judge James C. Ho of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote a poignant dissent defending the religious liberty and the freedom of conscience:
“…to the person of faith who is forced to confront this challenge of conscience, what matters is not who imposed the mandate, but that the mandate conflicts with religious conviction…To hypothesize that the earthly reward of monetary damages could compensate for these profound challenges of faith is to misunderstand the entire nature of religious conviction at its most foundational level. And that is so whether the mandate comes from D.C. or the C-Suite.”
Judge Ho’s dissent affirms that regardless whether it’s the government or a private employer, neither can put a price tag on an individual’s religious convictions.
But in addition to Judge’s Ho’s dissent, there’s another promising sign that religious employees could be fully vindicated…
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear oral argument on January 7th in several cases challenging the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine mandate on companies with more than 100 employees. These cases are about how much power the federal government can amass, over both individuals and businesses, including all religious organizations.
The Court’s decision could help deliver a major win for liberty, one that is desperately needed during this time when government and corporate elites are either ignoring or willfully trampling on the Constitution and federal religious liberty protections.
You’ll recall that First Liberty represents three national religious organizations—Daystar Television Network, Answers in Genesis, and the American Family Association—who are challenging OSHA’s mandate. Initially, our clients received a favorable decision after the Fifth Circuit issued an order temporarily halting the mandate. This was a temporary victory, as another appellate court recently reinstated the vaccine mandate, once again endangering not only our clients, but also millions employed by religious organizations across the country.
That’s why the upcoming oral argument at the Supreme Court is so critical.
If the Court strikes down the Biden administration’s mandate, it could help vindicate the religious liberty of our clients and protect all religious organizations and people of faith from unconstitutional government overreach.
Although vaccinations have become a politicized and divisive issue today, one thing is abundantly clear: The Constitution and federal law prevent the federal government from coercing a religious organization into violating the deeply held beliefs of its employees.
It’s incredibly dangerous for the government to effectively stage a takeover of companies with more than 100 employees, including religious organizations. While there’s disagreement over vaccines, we can all agree on freedom and the fact that the government cannot force Americans to violate their faith and conscience.