Courts Clash Over Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates

October 19, 2021

The language of the Maine and New York mandates is similar, so the different rulings stem from the judges’ different interpretations of the law, Wiley said. The sticking point is defining “what freedom of religion requires,” which is protected under the First Amendment, Wiley said.

The employees in both cases have claimed that a vaccine mandate discriminates against employees on the basis of religion because Covid-19 vaccines use fetal stem cell research.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on religion, meaning they must “reasonably accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Domenique Camacho Moran, a partner at Farrell Fritz who represents employers on labor matters. Title VII also protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, sex, and national origin.

New York’s mandate “essentially made those employers say ‘we can’t do anything,’” Moran said, so the court’s decision means that employers once again need to make reasonable accommodations.

The conflict in court ultimately hangs on whether “Title VII prevails over what a state does in its order,” Abramson said.

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