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Religious exemptions to vaccine mandates could test ‘sincerely held beliefs’
In legal battles over religious exemptions, it could come down to proving whether the person attempting to obtain one has “sincerely held beliefs” against the Covid vaccine.
Religious exemptions could prove to be the latest legal battlefield of the pandemic, as Americans opposed to the coronavirus vaccine attempt to find ways around employer and government vaccine mandates.
Some evangelical pastors are reportedly providing religious exemption documents to the members of their church, and right-wing forums are sharing strategies to skirt vaccine requirements. Religious freedom groups are sending threatening letters to states, schools and employers and preparing legal challenges to fight vaccine mandates.
Only some federal agencies and states have made vaccination mandatory for workers, and more private companies are doing or considering the same. But experts anticipate that religious liberty challenges will pick up as more mandates are put in place — especially when there is no national standard.
“There are some First Amendment implications here and there’s a patchwork of laws that could potentially be implicated by these mandates,” said James Sonne, a law professor at Stanford Law School and founding director of its Religious Liberty Clinic. “It's certainly something we’ll see getting worked out in the courts.”
The challenge for governments and institutions is balancing American civil liberties with a worsening public health crisis.