Dr. Melisha Cumberland, the chief of medicine at Windham Hospital, receives the COVID-19 vaccine. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

On October 1, The CT Mirror published a piece entitled,  CT hospitals see spike in religious exemptions for mandated COVID vaccines.  The focus of the article was the rise of requests for religious exemptions to COVID shot mandates at Connecticut hospitals in 2021, particularly in comparison to requests for flu shot exemptions over the last decade.  Buried amongst the statistics, however, was something far more striking:  demeaning and hostile statements toward those asserting exemption requests on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Brian Festa

Arthur Caplan, described as a professor of bioethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, emerges in the article as the chief arbiter of the sincerity of healthcare workers’ religious beliefs. The article describes Caplan as having “little patience” for employees citing the use of aborted fetal cells as a basis for refusing the COVID shots.  This sounds disturbingly similar to the rebuke by Joe Biden early last month, who said that his patience was “wearing thin” for those who refused to be injected at the whim of the government or their employers.

Millions of God-fearing Americans in this country find their patience wearing thin as well, Mr. Caplan. They have little patience for power-drunk oligarchs like yourself, who profess to be experts in not only a highly unpredictable and experimental substance without any established history of effectiveness or safety, but also in the sincerity of the religious convictions that rest in the hearts of these formerly-lauded frontline heroes.

Caplan believes that the fact that some of these people have taken over-the-counter and prescription drugs that were also tested on aborted fetal cells invalidates their exemptions.  Besides the fact that Caplan is mistaken about the use of aborted fetal cells lines in the development of many of these drugs (see here), he conveniently fails to mention two other very important points.  First, the vast majority of these individuals do not know (or did not know, until recently) that these drugs were tested on aborted fetal cells. Obviously they wouldn’t have asserted objections in the past if they were heretofore unaware of the sinister methods deployed in crafting these substances. Caplan also apparently doesn’t believe that people’s religious beliefs can change over time, but of course we know that they do. These two simple facts make clear that hospitals asking about employees’ past use of these substances are clearly missing the mark.  Even if they have, it proves nothing.

Employers, including hospitals, have an obligation to engage in an interactive dialogue with employees in determining whether to grant a religious exemption. Healthcare facilities should be wary of universally declaring all religious exemptions an “undue burden” on their operations, on the theory that those asserting such objections pose a hazard to patients and staff. For over a year, and for months on end when COVID cases and deaths were reportedly at much higher levels than at present, these healthcare workers saved lives without having received the COVID shots.  They were considered “safe” with the aid of personal protective equipment and other precautions, such as patient testing.  They did not pose an “undue burden” then, so it’s illogical to label them as such now. If anyone has a problem with consistency of belief, it’s these employers.

The bottom line is this: religious accommodations in the workplace are not optional, and are not nullified during a pandemic (or, more precisely now, an endemic). The default is to grant exemptions, unless you can sincerely prove that doing so would pose an undue burden on the employer.  Somehow that long-established rule of Title VII and state discrimination laws has been twisted into the inverse — deny all requests for religious exemptions unless the employee can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the sincerity of their religious beliefs.

The “undue burden” has been foisted on these frontline heroes in the name of saving lives and at the hands of those who sit in cozy corner offices, who know far less about saving lives than the workers they oppress.  It’s time we stood behind our healthcare workers, and time we stood up to healthcare administrators.

Brian Festa is Vice-President and Co-Founder of We The Patriots USA, Inc.