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POMONA, California (LifeSiteNews) – Hospitals are backtracking on hundreds of previously denied religious exemption requests for COVID vaccine mandates as healthcare workers fight back against compulsory vaccination.

After threats of legal action, Los Angeles-area Pomona Valley Hospital (PVH) reversed a decision made earlier this month to reject around 200 requests for vaccination exemptions filed by nurses and other staff, The Epoch Times reported.

The PVH had granted a blanket denial to the requests, asking employees to provide more details about their religious beliefs than required by the hospital’s exemption request form.

“We received your COVID-19 vaccine religious exemption request. After thorough review of your request, we are informing you that the Hospital has concluded that the request should be denied on the grounds that it does not establish a sufficient basis for granting an exemption from the vaccination requirement,” read a rejection email collectively sent to 200 PVH employees on August 31.

The letter gave staff until three days before the Labor Day holiday to supply additional information about their applications. The group of unvaccinated employees, who stressed that their personal religious beliefs compelled them to avoid currently available COVID-19 vaccines, hired an attorney in response, according to The Epoch Times.

Pomona Valley Hospital’s vaccine mandate comes after a rule issued last month by the California Department of Public Health requiring vaccination for all health care providers in the state by September 30 – weeks later than the PVH deadline – as a condition of employment.

Recent guidance published by the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment (DEFA) noted, however, that state law “requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with a known disability or sincerely-held religious belief or practice that prevents them from being vaccinated COVID-19” and prevents retaliation against workers who seek exemptions. The guidance also states that employers may not “discriminate against or harass employees or job applicants on the basis of a protect characteristic,” like religion.

Dan Watkins, the PVH employees’ attorney, sent a letter to hospital officials on September 3 informing them that failure to respect non-discrimination requirements would result in lawsuits by each of his plaintiffs.

Pomona Valley responded to Watkins five days later with a statement that the hospital had “decided to approve” the requests after all.

“Upon further review and examination, PVHMC has decided to approve all requests for religious exemption that it has received to date,” the statement read, adding that PVH “understands that the California and Los Angeles County public health orders identify an exemption from mandatory vaccination based upon an employee’s religious beliefs.”

“The case is pretty clear, that a sincerely held religious belief of an individual is just that,” Watkins told The Epoch Times. “The exemptions are not reliant on confirmation or affirmation from a pastor or priest or from some spiritual leader. You don’t have to testify to the frequency of attending services. Some of the questions employers are including in the applications are very intimidating and they’re designed to make employees think that they don’t even have a belief or that they can’t defend their beliefs.”

“So there are two things going on. One is there’s an actual intentional effort to intimidate and coerce people to not even submit an exemption request by asking questions of employees that are over-broad and irrelevant to this analysis. The second effort is to deny the exemption once they’re submitted, saying they want more information, or it’s denied again as a form of harassment and intimidation.”

Watkins also warned of shortage problems, as have been seen across the United States, that PVH would likely experience in the wake of mass layoffs due to non-compliance with vaccination rules. “I can’t imagine they are ready to fire or otherwise allow 200-plus staff members [to] walk off the job,” he said. “Operationally, that would be very difficult, but more importantly, patient care would be put at risk. The optics in that scenario would be pretty bad.”

Unvaccinated employees and volunteers at Pomona Valley must still wear face masks and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, despite their exemptions.

The victory for California health care workers follows similar successes against restrictive, discriminatory vaccination mandates in recent weeks, including in Illinois and Louisiana.

In New York, a federal court ruling last Tuesday has led a Syracuse-based hospital to restore exemptions initially granted to almost 100 employees, before the New York Department of Health terminated religious exemptions for health care workers as part of a new statewide vaccine mandate three weeks ago.

Judge David Hurd of the Northern District of New York temporarily blocked the health department’s policy in light of a lawsuit brought by the Thomas More Society on behalf of 17 Christian medical professionals. New York “is barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted,” Hurd ruled.

The Thomas More Society lawsuit argued that “it would be a violation of [the plaintiffs’] deeply held religious beliefs and moral consciences to take any of the available COVID-19 vaccines given their use of abortion-derived fetal cell lines in testing, development, or production.”

“These plaintiffs are not – I repeat – not anti-vaxxers, as the fake news media calls them,” said attorney Christopher Ferrara, Thomas More Society Special Counsel. “They are in fact in favor of voluntary vaccination with informed consent, but they oppose jack-booted coercion by the state to take a vaccine their religion forbids them to take. This is America, not Red China.”

St. Joseph’s Health, part of the Catholic, Michigan-based hospital system Trinity Health, will reinstate exemptions previously eliminated by the blocked Department of Health policy and will review applications that were pending or denied because of the state’s mandate, Becker’s Hospital Review reported. New hires may also now submit religious exemption requests.

“While Trinity Health’s vaccination requirement allowed an exemption for persons objecting to vaccination based on a sincerely held religious belief, the [state’s] emergency regulation does not,” Trinity CEO Leslie Paul Luke wrote in a memo explaining the reversal. “This meant Trinity Health could no longer grant religious exemptions to colleagues in our New York health ministries,” he said, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.