Faith groups consider legal challenges against Delta variant restrictions and vaccine warrants

Originally Posted: 02 AOT 09:42 ET

Update: AOT 21 at 4:31 p.m. ET

By Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court reporter

(CNN) – The spread of the Delta variant has reignited a debate that raged in the Supreme Court last term as houses of worship accused this state that Covid-related restrictions violated their rights to religious freedom.

Overall, the judges have ruled against the states and set a new precedent in a series of emergency orders issued without the benefit of regular oral submissions or arguments. Now, the groups that won in the first round of prosecutions are hoping the stern warnings from the conservative majority in the last term will sway states as they consider further restrictions, including possible vaccine warrants.

“If a government tries to get back on the path of shutting down worship, this time around we benefit from the many Supreme Court rulings making it clear that worship is not only important, but essential,” Eric Rassbach, vice-president chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, told CNN.

Jim Oleske, professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, expects the courts to be busy.

“The Delta Wave is likely to spark a whole new round of litigation, with legal challenges over any further restrictions on gatherings and any new masking or vaccination requirements,” Oleske said.

The Supreme Court set new limits in the last term, voting, for example, 5-4 in a case in April for block California restrictions on home gatherings. The restriction had been challenged by a pastor and his wife seeking to organize a home Bible study. The court adopted what legal experts call “most-favored-nation” status. Simplified, this means that if the government makes an exemption for someone, it must make an exemption for the religious complainant.

The issue of vaccination mandates, however, is not so straightforward. Groups have fought for places of worship to get exemptions from Covid restrictions that they thought were available to secular entities, but they may see the vaccine warrants in a different light, given the requirements in vaccine matters likely include housing for religious believers, and that the government might have more compelling reason for its actions.

“An important question is whether the court will be as concerned with religious objections in the context of vaccination as it was when it came to the Covid rules which had the effect of limiting the size of gatherings for religious worship, ”Okeske said.

A petition regarding the potential of the Delta variant restrictions has been taken to the High Court. Calvary Chapel in Bangor, Maine, represented by Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, asked prevent the state from applying or reinstating restrictions which she said would violate her constitutional rights to religious freedom. Staver acknowledges that Maine lifted the restrictions in May, but fears it will reinstate them with the ramp-up of the Delta variant.

“The Delta variant increases the urgency for the Supreme Court to permanently quarantine governors to impose discriminatory restrictions on churches and places,” Staver said in an interview. “The Constitution cannot be suspended by Covid-19 or any of its variants.”

Judge Stephen Breyer dismissed the petition on Monday.

Questions about the mandate of vaccines

Vaccine requirements raise different legal questions and are less of a concern for certain groups concerned with religious freedom, as there is often the possibility of obtaining an exemption based on religious beliefs.

In 1905, the Supreme Court upheld a vaccine mandate from the state in Jacobson v. Massachusetts in a case concerning a smallpox epidemic.

Now that the Biden administration is unveiling new short-term requirements, legal experts say private or public employers can apply for vaccines, though they must follow anti-discrimination laws.

“Nothing in federal law prohibits an employer from requiring vaccines as long as they provide accommodations for people with disabilities and those with sincere religious beliefs,” said

Sharon Perley Masling, Director of Corporate Culture Consulting at Morgan Lewis.

“Legally, it looks like it will be difficult for a vaccine warrant challenge to succeed in federal court,” she said.

In a guide titled “What You Need to Know About Covid-19,” the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, said federal laws “do not prevent an employer to require all employees to physically enter the workplace for vaccination subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the Americans with Disability Act. “

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex. According to EEOC guidelines, Title VII requires an employer “to provide reasonable accommodation because of a disability or because of sincere religious belief, practice or observance.”

The guidelines explain that “reasonable accommodation” which “does not place undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business” could include allowing an unvaccinated employee to enter the workplace for wear a mask, work at a social distance from co-workers, work a modified shift, take periodic tests for Covid, have the option to telecommute or accept a reassignment.

There have already been challenges to the fact that the vaccines have not yet been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but have instead been cleared under the emergency authority of the FDA. The Justice Department’s legal counsel’s office last month released legal advice saying the federal food and drug law “does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements, even when the only vaccines available are those authorized under the EUA. [emergency use authorization]. “

He stressed, however, that his opinion only concerned food and drug laws and left open the possibility that other “federal, state or local laws or regulations” could “restrict the ability of public or private entities to adopt policies. specific vaccine policies “. This is probably the reason why President Joe Biden approached the issue of national mandates with caution.

In a case in Texas, a federal judge dismissed a challenge filed by employees who opposed vaccine requirements proposed by the Methodist Hospital in Houston. Importantly, the hospital allows religious exemptions under Title VII.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes rejected the challengers’ allegations that the vaccine is “experimental and dangerous” and cited the EEOC guidelines in its opinion.

Jared Woodfill, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he is already preparing an appeal.

Staver is carefully reviewing vaccine mandates, especially because the Department of Veterans Affairs is the first agency to require its employees, including doctors, dentists, registered nurses and physician assistants, to be vaccinated. .

Staver, has doubts about such requirements. “No one should be forced to inject a drug into their body, especially a drug that is not fully approved by the FDA,” Staver said. He said his group was working successfully to secure religious accommodations for those who oppose the Covid shooting. “At the same time, we are preparing a dispute to stop the compulsory firing.”

“As with the litigation with the church, we will work to expedite all of our court challenges to the Supreme Court,” Staver said.

Vatican letter

But other groups have not followed suit – with some voicing approval for the vaccine requirements.

Last December, the Vatican gave the green light to vaccines after some anti-abortion groups questioned whether the vaccines were made from cells from aborted fetuses. The cells are actually designed and grown in the lab from tissue acquired decades ago and not made directly from aborted fetuses.

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a note approved by Pope Francis that receiving the blow was morally authorized.

“It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” the note said.

The-CNN-Wire
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