The Methodist Health System (MHS) wasted no time once it received Liberty Counsel’s demand letter on behalf of four employees who had previously been unlawfully denied religious exemptions from their COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Three of the employees were granted immediate exemptions upon receipt of Liberty Counsel’s legal letter. A fourth exemption is pending.
“We are happy to count MHS as a success story provided they follow through and grant exemptions to all of the employees who have made appropriate requests,” said Roger Gannam, an attorney with Liberty Counsel. “The truth of the matter is now that they have started granting exemptions they won’t really be able to stop or to differentiate between the religious requests because that would be discrimination. So, we’re very encouraged that by granting these requests in response to our letter, it indicates a policy going forward of granting all appropriate requests.”
MHS has reportedly created an ‘exemption committee’ to review vaccine exemption requests, which operates similar to a discrimination committee that reviews claims of discrimination.
“An exemption committee seems to be a relatively new feature brought about by mandatory COVID vaccination policies,” Gannam told Dallas Express. “I think many employers are anticipating challenges, even litigation, in trying to impose a mandatory company-wide vaccine policy and they’re creating these committees to try and either limit how many exemptions are given out or, in the best cases, just to be consistent with how the exemptions are granted.”
Many more health care workers have since come forward alleging that MHS’s unlawful conduct of denying religious exemptions to its employees is widespread, according to Roger.
“It seemed that MHS was denying everyone,” Gannam said in an interview. “We hadn’t been told of any granted religious exemption requests, which is very disappointing because the approach they took was very cynical as if to say that no one was really sincere in their religious beliefs. We think that’s the wrong approach.”
The four employees represented by Liberty Counsel submitted religious exemptions because of their sincere religious beliefs that all three of the currently available COVID-19 vaccine injections are produced by, derived from, manufactured with, tested on, developed with, or otherwise connected to or associated with aborted fetal cell lines.
“The law requires MHS to be more generous in their religious exemptions and not to just throw up challenges because they don’t want to give the exemption and so, in this case, MHS was challenging employees’ exemption requests without having any facts or knowledge to doubt the sincerity of the religious beliefs that were stated,” Gannam said.
MHS is accusing the employees of religious ignorance and fraud, either for believing “erroneous information” that the injections are associated with aborted fetal cell lines, or for holding theological beliefs that purportedly contradict their declared denomination’s public statement against the injections, according to a statement online.
“The sincerity of the belief is based on the employee articulating it clearly to the employer exactly what the belief is and the employer does not have the legal right to engage in lengthy inquisition to try to challenge that belief,” Gannam said. “If, for example, the employer was aware of a Facebook post or an email from the employee who said the exact opposite of the religious belief that the employee was claiming, then the employer might have grounds to challenge it because in that case, the employer would have facts in hand to challenge it. But in the absence of that, the employer cannot require the employee to get a verification from a member of the clergy.”
Under Texas law, employees have the fundamental right to determine what medical care to accept and refuse. It also protects the rights of all health care workers to abstain from participation in abortion while the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act requires employers to accommodate employees’ sincere religious beliefs.
“The employer can’t challenge the belief just because it might be different from what others in the same denomination believe or different from what other people who generally identify with the same religion might express as their beliefs,” Gannam said. “The belief need only be expressed to the employer sincerely by the employee to require accommodation by the employer.”
MHS employees have been given an Oct. 1 to be vaccinated and Sept. 10 is their deadline to request a religious exemption. As a result, Liberty Counsel is advising MHS employees to file their religious exemptions immediately. Liberty Counsel is offering assistance to those who have been denied religious exemptions.
If MHS does not grant appropriate religious exemption requests, Liberty Counsel is prepared to take legal action.
“We intend to follow through with our promise as stated in our demand letter,” Gannam added. “In New York, for example, employees are basically being denied their religious exemption and even the right to ask for one by a decision of the governor of New York. We’ve already filed a lawsuit based on the same facts in Maine where the governor of Maine has imposed this mandate and acts like federal law doesn’t apply and that no religious exemptions can even be requested. So, in those cases that are really egregious, that’s where we’ll put our resources to step in and try to help as many employees as possible.”
In July, Liberty Counsel was awarded a $1.35 million settlement in Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry litigation against the state of California over COVID-19 church restrictions.
The state agreed to pay Liberty Counsel an accumulated $1.35 million in legal fees and costs in order to finally end the litigation.
“Often public officials will just do whatever they can get away with and we saw happen a lot during the COVID lockdowns and we’re seeing it now with these vaccination policies,” Gannam said. “New York is imposing a requirement on all healthcare workers be vaccinated and is acting like there’s no such thing as a religious exemption available. New York, somehow, doesn’t have to follow federal law in employment. Those are pretty brazen acts that are just asking for someone to step in and file a lawsuit.”