By Michael Homans
Employers have faced an escalating array of claims of religious rights by employees objecting to Covid vaccination requirements. And surely in the 2024 election campaigns we’ll hear more about what the government did right or wrong in responding to the pandemic.
Employees at AstraZeneca Pharmaceutical.took their assertion of religious rights to new heights by claiming that after prayerful consideration about the safety and effectiveness of Covid vaccines, God or the Holy Spirit directed them to not take the medications. One employee explained that “God gave him a conscience that tells him what to do,” and another said that “the Holy Spirit . . . guides him in his difficult decisions.”
A federal judge in Maryland ruling on the case first noted that she did not doubt the sincerity of the employees’ religious beliefs. However, the intertwining of secular safety and efficacy considerations with their claims that God guided them in their individual decision-making diluted their claims beyond salvation.
The judge explained that if all employees were allowed a religious exemption to disagreeable terms based on subjective, unverifiable claims of divine guidance about a particular issue, it would create a “blanket privilege” not subject to any principled limitation. “Ultimately, beliefs amounting to a declaration that an employee has the right to make unliteral decisions do not constitute religious beliefs, even where religion is expressly invoked in communicating the beliefs.”