Criticism mounts of federal policies tracking religious exemption requests for COVID vaccine | national



(The Center Square) — Fifty-five federal agencies have issued rule changes to track employees and others who claim religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Critics of the tracking say the practice discriminates against believers.

Members of Congress are also intervening, asking President Joe Biden to suspend policies tracking religious exemptions. A lawmaker introduced legislation to ban the practice.

“The federal government doesn’t have to create a database of people who file religious exemptions,” said Mat Staver, founder and president of Liberty Counsel. Recount The Center Square last month after it was initially reported that a federal agency was logging exemption requests. “The only possible purpose this could have is to first identify and then discriminate against people of faith. Knowing who is requesting religious exemptions serves no legitimate or legal purpose.”

Now that 55 agencies track religious exemption requests, Staver compared it to a database used by Nazi Germany to track people of the Jewish faith.

“This database is what allowed the Nazis to round up people targeted for ghettos and concentration camps,” he said. “The federal government has launched its own database of Americans of Faith. We cannot allow this to happen. of one.”

Liberty Counsel, a litigation, education and policy nonprofit, has filed several lawsuits regarding federal vaccine mandates. Nearly all of the 28,000 religious exemptions filed by the US military have been denied, Liberty Counsel found in a lawsuit it filed on behalf of Navy SEALs. State attorneys general and other groups have also sued the Biden administration after the issuance of an executive order last September requiring all federal employees and contractors to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment or to receive federal contracts.

Even though a federal judge in Texas recently terminated the federal employee/contractor’s retainer and litigation is pending, federal law requires that religious and medical exemptions be considered. Initially, federal employees had to be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021.

The U.S. General Services Administration’s Federal Workforce Safety Task Force has issued guidance to federal agencies on how to implement the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. It states that agencies “may be required to provide reasonable accommodation” to those requesting exemptions “due to a disability or due to a sincere religious belief, practice or observance”, and provides guidance on how to track exemption requests.

In response to a federal system for tracking religious exemptions, U.S. Representative Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina, introduced HR 6502, the “Religious Freedom Over Mandates Act.” The one-paragraph bill “would prohibit the use of federal funds for any religious accommodation registry system with respect to any COVID-19 vaccination requirements.”

Twenty Republican members of Congress have also written to Biden asking the federal government not to target or track those who file religious exemption requests.

“Your administration cannot use the power of the federal government to follow up on the request of federal employees who requested a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine,” they wrote. “From day one, your administration has displayed a consistent attitude of contempt for Americans who prioritize faith in their lives. Your administration’s attempt to use the power of the federal government to single out Americans who oppose to the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds is inexcusable and should be withdrawn.

The letter was signed by Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Alex Mooney of West Virginia, Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Mary Miller of Illinois, Louie Gohmert of Texas. , and Ben Cline and Bob Good of Virginia.

“The majority of notices do not explain how long the agency plans to store the data, why the agency should share the data between federal agencies, or why the agency should retain the data beyond a decision of ‘grant or deny an employee’s religious accommodation request,” they argue. “Your administration has provided no valid justification for these intrusive databases which will only be used to target Americans who have refused a COVID-19 vaccine because of their religious beliefs.”

The administration has not yet made any changes to these policies and has not issued a statement in response.

Liberty Counsel Action released a list of rule changes issued by each of the 55 federal agencies.

So far, they have released 57 rule changes that include tracking federal employees or applicants who request exemptions. Some are limited to COVID-19 vaccine exemptions; some follow all exemptions, including those seeking to not work on Sabbaths or Sundays. Some agencies track information about visitors, job applicants, or event attendees.

All of the rule changes appear to have already gone into effect, except for those by the U.S. Department of Commerce, whose public comment period remains open until March 28.

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