The ever-increasing number of vaccine and mask mandates by government officials, schools, employers, restaurants, retailers, and public venues has many citizens asking “What are my rights when it comes to COVID-19 protocols?” Our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom have produced a helpful Summary Guidance resource that provides insight into this issue, especially as it relates to seeking a “religious exemption” from vaccine and mask mandates at work and at school.
Please keep in mind that ADF’s Summary Guidance is provided “as a courtesy and is not intended to provide legal information or advice to any person or entity.” It also focuses primarily on the issue of religious exemptions from vaccine and mask mandates and is not intended to serve as a comprehensive guide on the matter. The following are several examples from the Frequently Asked Questions section of ADF’s Summary Guidance.
My employer or school requires masks. I have a religious objection. Do I have any recourse?
ADF Response: First, you must ensure that you have a bona fide religious objection. Few, if any, religions have specific teachings against wearing masks. You must be able to articulate a religious belief that the mask requirement violates. Medical, cultural, or political objections do not qualify as a bona fide religious objection. Some plaintiffs have sued based on religious objections to wearing masks in public, but courts have rejected those to date.
My child attend(s) a school that requires COVID vaccination to attend. I have a religious objection to all of the available COVID vaccines. Do I have any options?
ADF Response: You must first determine if your objection is based on a sincerely held religious belief against taking any of the available vaccines (since they are different), or whether your objections are based on other medical, health, cultural, or political, but not religious, concerns. Many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.
If you do have 1) a sincerely held religious objection to taking all vaccines, or 2) a specific, sincerely held belief rooted in your faith that taking these particular COVID-19 vaccines would violate your sincerely held religious beliefs in a way that you can articulate, then you may be entitled to request an accommodation, depending on the situation. You should also first check to see if any other objections to the vaccines are permitted, such as medical exemptions, or pregnancy. If you receive an accommodation, you should be willing to accept other requirements such as wearing a mask, temperature checks, and/or regular COVID-testing.
I believe my objections to the COVID-19 vaccine are likely non-religious objections. Do I have any recourse against a vaccine mandate by my employer or my or my child’s school?
ADF Response: It depends on your situation. Employers and schools sometimes offer accommodations and exemptions for reasons other than sincerely held religious beliefs, most commonly health accommodations or exemptions for employees and students who have medical conditions that put them at particular risk if they are required to receive a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also has a medical accommodation provision similar to Title VII’s religious accommodation in employment provision.
For more answers to Frequently Asked Questions and other guidance from Alliance Defending Freedom regarding COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, please review the entire Summary Document and other related resources on the ADF website.