Getting a religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccine could be a challenge

Local News

SAN JUAN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A religious exemption is one way people in Texas could get out of having a mandatory vaccination but getting one and what happens afterward is not as straightforward as some might think.

Businesses must make an effort to reasonably accommodate a person with a religious exemption, but sometimes that isn’t possible.

“If somebody is, for example, in a nursing home or a hospital, there may be issues in having an unvaccinated person,” said Rick Barrera, an attorney in Harlingen.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires businesses to make efforts to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees, which could include not getting vaccines.

But the person filing for a religious exemption would need it approved by an authority figure from their religious institution.

“The religious exemption can’t just be ‘I’m making it up,'” explained Barrera. “There would need to be an authenticated, good-faith religious exemption where accommodations can be made so that a person is not putting others at risk.”

Barrera said that employees could be fired if a reasonable accommodation can’t be found, however, most of the time there are other options employers can do to accommodate their workers.

That includes moving the employee to jobs that don’t require them to interact with customers or other workers at such a high rate, such as “administrative duties, caseworker duties, things that don’t relate to close, intimate care for high-risk individuals.”

Another option is having the employee work from home if the job allows it.

For Catholics, getting a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine could be a challenge.

Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to get the vaccine, calling it “an act of love.” In Brownsville, Bishop Flores has expressed his support for the vaccine as well.

Full FDA approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was granted on August 23, and full approval for the Moderna vaccine is expected to come soon as well.

With at least one vaccine no longer being under Emergency Use Authorization, Barrera said businesses might not need to accommodate people seeking exemptions.

“You apply for religious exemption, you may or may not get it,” he said. “If they don’t have an accommodation for you, you might get discharged.”

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