Thursday, August 19, 2021

Coronavirus Update 8-19-2021: The (Un)Healthy American, along with other more reputable organizations, help Americans dodge vaccine mandates

Meet Peggy Hall. She runs a website called The Healthy American

What is The Healthy American? For starters, it's a website that NewsGuard ranks 22.5/100 (a failing grade no matter how you slice it), for, among other sins and errors, publishing false and irresponsible misinformation about the Covid vaccine. 

For example— 

Q: Should I get a medical exemption or a religious exemption? 

A: If you have a bona fide medical condition that prevents you from getting the jab, taking a test or wearing a mask – and if you have a doctor who will write the exemption, that is a valid approach. However, it may be difficult to find a doctor who will do so. Also, your company or school may require that you get the exemption renewed every six months or yearly. A religious exemption covers you "forever" and you do not need any evidence or proof other than your own sincerely held religious beliefs (or ethical/moral beliefs). 


Q: Do I have to tell my boss my vaccine status?

A: Ask what the consequences are if you decline to state. (If it were me I would say, "I'm fully immunized… just like God made me.") 

In other words.

  • Employees should seek a religious exemption over a medical exemption because the former is harder to challenge and is more permanent.
  • In the context of a global pandemic, "fully immunized" means two weeks after your final course of vaccination, not "how God made you."
Moreover, for the low price of $39, The Healthy American sells a letter (customizable for an additional $90) that an employee can present to an employer claiming a religious exemption from a mask or vaccine mandate. 

Peggy Hall is not the only one peddling misinformation to employees. For example, consider the Cathedral of St. Patrick of Charlotte, North Carolina, which is offering to write religious objection letters for parishioners to present to their employers. It is also directing non-parishioners to a free form letter offered by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (take that, The Healthy American and your $39 fee).

To be clear, the Vatican absolutely takes the position that Catholics can and should receive the Covid vaccine. Pope Francis, who himself is vaccinated, has called it a moral obligation. Indeed, just yesterday the Vatican released a public service announcement in which Pope Francis urges everyone to get the Covid vaccine. He calls getting the vaccine "an act of love," and offers thanks to God's grace and the work of scientists for giving us its gift. 

Still, formal religious doctrine is only one means by which one can qualify for a religious accommodation. As I indicated last week, one who holds a moral or ethical belief as to what is right and wrong with the same sincerity and strength of traditional religious views is entitled to the same protection as if the belief is rooted in core religious tenets. Thus, even a Catholic can claim a valid religious objection to a vaccine mandate if they state their objection with the conviction of a religious belief.

Thus, I am skeptical of attorneys who preach that religious exemption forms, such as those offered by The Healthy American and the National Catholic Bioethics Center, have little legal merit. The Charlotte Observer quotes one employment law attorney: "[T]he requirement for employers to accommodate religious beliefs was 'never intended to allow employees to circumvent public health and safety requirements.'" That might not be Title VII's intent, but that doesn't mean it's an argument I want to present to a jury, at least some of whom will believe the exact opposite.

Thus, while it is the height of irresponsible and hypocritical hubris to peddle solutions that allow people to claim religious exemptions that run counter to the express teachings of their religion, employers who deny such accommodation requests are playing with legal fire.