(LifeSiteNews) — Former employees within a university health system filed a lawsuit on Thursday claiming that they were not granted religious exemptions from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine because their beliefs were not included on a list of “favored religions.”
Six former employees of the University of Virginia (UVA) health system are suing the corporate board, UVA Health’s Leaders, and the Religious Accommodation Committee to correct discrimination against themselves and any other employees who did not receive religious exemption to the required COVID vaccines. The plaintiffs are also calling for the immediate removal of UVA’s policy to grant religious exemptions to vaccination.
“This is a religious-discrimination and civil-rights case under the Establishment and Free Exercises Clauses of the First Amendment and the Virginia Constitution, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the complaint states. “When UVA Health mandated that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine, it knew that it was required to accommodate religious beliefs. But it wanted to minimize accommodations and believed that most objections were false political beliefs from members of the political right.”
According to the complaint, the health system “drew up a list of churches that its human-resources personnel believed had official doctrines prohibiting vaccination.” Employees who followed these selected beliefs were “automatically exempted” while those following other religions were “automatically dismissed.” The complaint argues that the employer rejected certain requests because they were deemed “as insincere, as non-religious in nature, as based on ‘misinformation,’ or as a misinterpretation of the objector’s own religious beliefs.”
All six of the plaintiffs — five Christians and one Catholic — were fired either “without explanation” or “on unconstitutional grounds.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the Founding Freedoms Law Center and CrossCastle law firm. In addition to challenging the wrongful firing of hundreds of former employees, “the six Plaintiffs also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the Court to order UVA to immediately stop its discriminatory policies and practices,” according to a press release.
“In a pluralistic society, no one is forced to agree with another person’s religious convictions, but our laws normally require employers, and especially government employers, to accommodate their employees’ sincerely-held religious beliefs,” Josh Hetzler, Founding Freedoms Law Center’s legal counsel, said in the release. “Because UVA Health Systems refused to do this, many well-qualified and conscientious health professionals lost their jobs.”
The complaint highlighted that employees were fired “simply because UVA Health disapproved of their religious views regarding abortion and vaccines,” saying that those who did not wish to receive COVID shots because of their link to abortion were not given exemptions.
UVA Health employees were notified of a COVID vaccine requirement on August 25, 2021, according to the complaint. They had until November 1 of that year to comply or face termination.
“All employees were required to receive two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.” Expecting religious exemption requests, the system “established a new process to consider religious accommodations” that was “more restrictive” than the protocol which came before.
“UVA Health’s Leaders assembled the Religious Accommodation Committee, a committee of five Human Resources employees,” the complaint stated. “This committee would review accommodation requests submitted by employees and evaluate employees’ religious beliefs and practices. UVA Health has not disclosed the procedures by which the Religious Accommodation Committee operated.”
Additionally, the health system compiled a list of “religions that prohibited vaccination” and “instructed human resources personnel in writing that they should routinely grant exemption requests from employees who practiced these approved faiths.” The list of religions included Dutch Reformed Congregations, Faith Tabernacle, Church of the First Born, Faith Assembly, End Time Ministries, and Church of Christ, Scientist.
As organizations across the country implemented COVID vaccine requirements for employees, religious discrimination lawsuits consistently followed. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case involving healthcare professionals who declared the vaccine mandate in the state of Maine was discriminatory toward religious objections to the shots.
During the summer, a university health system in Illinois was ordered to pay millions of dollars for refusing to grant religious exemptions to over 500 employees. A prominent controversy in the U.S. has been the vaccine mandates put in place for members of the military. Throughout the past year, employees of different military branches have filed lawsuits challenging the requirement. In September, over 1,200 members of the Coast Guard banded together to file a lawsuit against the vaccine mandate, which violates their religious beliefs.
More recently, thousands of Air Force employees were freed from the mandate when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that requiring the COVID vaccines violated religious freedom.
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