Religious exemption requests for COVID-19 vaccine on the rise across DC region

Religion and politics are typically taboo topics in the workplace. However, employers these days are increasingly asking questions about it as they respond to requests for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

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Religious exemptions can get pretty complicated. Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja says employers have to pay close attention to find out who’s being sincere and who’s just looking for an excuse not to get the vaccine.

"Often this is an opportunity for people to sort of rig the system in order to avoid getting a vaccine, but it’s very difficult and many employers end up giving employees the benefit of the doubt even if there’s not really religious prohibition against the vaccine just because they want to avoid the issue," said Adalja.

The right to request a religious exemption stems from Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of religion, among other things.

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FOX 5 checked in with jurisdictions all across the d-c region to ask how many religious exemptions they are receiving. At this time, most places don’t have hard numbers since there is no official dashboard keeping track and updating those requests.

However, Virginia’s Fairfax County says they have received 436 religious exemptions so far and they are still under review.

In Maryland, Prince George’s County says they are in the process of still having employees submit their requests and working to finalize vaccination policies.

At last check in D.C., according to information the Washington Post obtained from city officials, 2,500 healthcare workers are still unvaccinated with 70 percent of them requesting a religious exemption.

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Religious requests against the COVID-19 are piling up this fall despite the fact that faith leaders from a variety of traditions support vaccination.

Labor Employment Attorney Broderick Dunn says he’s been getting lots of calls about how this all works.

"I had a potential client call me and say they were against the vaccine because they were catholic. That’s also not going to work because Pope Francis put out a statement back in august where he encouraged Catholics around the world to be vaccinated and in fact – he called it an act of love," said Dunn.


He adds religious exemptions are being done on a case-by-case basis because every situation is different. There’s no specific method or qualifications that automatically make you exempt.