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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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'She didn't give me any other option.' Religious exemption requests spark vaccine mandate debates

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Posted at 4:20 PM, Sep 16, 2021

(WSYM) — As more employers and businesses require COVID vaccinations, we’re finding religious exemptions are becoming a contentious issue for some.

Related:

Metro Detroit is very religiously diverse. Generally, most institutional religions, Christian, Jewish and Islamic religions do not oppose vaccines.

Exemptions involve workplace settings, schools and businesses.

Ascension St. John requires medical students to get vaccinated or get a medical or religious exemption.

"I've been dreaming and wanting to do ever since the 10th grade. I feel like because I'm being withheld from my education because I didn't want a medical procedure done," said Angelina Payette,

Payette is one of only 12 students who were accepted into the St. John radiology class. She says she was kicked out by the instructor because she’s not vaccinated.

"Yep, just kicked me to the curb. I actually was wearing a mask and everything. But no, she didn't give me any other option," said Payette.

Wayne State University required vaccinations for the fall semester and allows waivers.

And on its waiver form it says:

"A religious exemption will not be granted based on a philosophical, moral, or conscientious objection."

WAYNE STATE U Covid Vaccine Declination Form by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

"My hope is that people do not use religion as a cover, because they don't want to get the vaccine — that's bad for everybody, it's bad for our society in general. We want to reserve these accommodations for people who truly need them," said Deborah Gordon, labor law attorney.

Wayne State says of the 24,000 faculty and students, 1,374 requested waivers, mostly for religious, not medical reasons — and 95-percent of the waivers were granted.

Pope Francis said yesterday, "humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines." The ACLU also does not oppose vaccination mandates.

The legal standard for a religious exemption has become ...

- It must be based on a sincerely held religious belief

- The employer is justified in seeking additional information

- The process is interactive between the employee and human resources

- Not getting vaccination would cause an undue burden on employer's business

"The employer also has to deal with other people’s potential safety and health. So, it’s a very complicated situation," said Gordon."One of the things employers are going to be asking is, are there other vaccines, you have not gotten? Because that's going to shed some light on the sincerity of religious belief."

University of Michigan Medicine also requires vaccinations for 30,000 employees, their deadline was August 30 and they’re still calculating how many exemption requests have been filed. However union contract between the Michigan Nurses Association and Michigan Medicine does not mandate COVID vaccines for Michigan Medicine nurses.

The collective bargaining agreement, rather, encourages the vaccinations instead of requiring them.

Henry Ford Health System is requiring vaccinations.

“Each application for a religious exemption is reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team against a defined set of criteria,” a spokesperson for the Henry Ford Health System said.

Gordon added, "I just want to emphasize for everybody out there, because I know I'm getting a lot of calls from ... the way the case law currently stands, it's going to be a tough road."

We found websites that help people request exemptions, one urged people to personalize the letters, and use your own words, but also to include words like "sacred,"Holy," "worship," "blessed" and others.

Payette says she’s not sure she’s going to stay in class at St. John.

"The teacher with the way she was acting about it and her body language and the words she was using and the hostility that was there between us. I feel like it would not be a fun two years," she said.

Ascension released the following statement regarding Payette's request:

Employers and schools who do grant exemptions usually require masking, distancing, weekly testing and other accommodations.