All persons have a right to a religious exemption under USA law if they hold a “sincere religious belief.” It is incorrect that any other “proof” is necessary. No particular faith, theology, action or inaction is required. However, it must be a belief that is sincerely held by the individual. While in normal times, religious beliefs are not challenged, in the current climate, it is possible that should a dispute arise, perhaps between an employer and an employee, both sides might suggest evidence that supports or contradicts that.
Here we have gathered essays on the subject of religious concerns regarding vaccines. We encourage all people to thoughtfully read through all these essays and determine if any/several sincerely apply to themselves as an individual. This is an individual exercise. We provide this because we know it is difficult to articulate and/or defend these beliefs. However, this exercise is yours alone.
You can and/or should use this material to support your own statement of your own sincerely held religious beliefs. We have provided this material in word doc format for your convenience, however it would contradict your assertion that your belief is sincerely held if you were for example, to broadly copy and paste another person’s or entity’s beliefs. Certainly if a sentence or paragraph or reference speaks to your heart and soul, that is acceptable to copy. The authors have all given their permission and/or the statements are in the public domain.
If you are having to assert your sincere religious belief, you must do this work on your own, using your own thoughts and own words. Those words are based upon your own contemplation and your own research and AFLDS is happy to assist you.
In God We Trust.
Considerations for your personal exemption statement
Please note AFLDS is not providing legal advice.
We recommend, that in addition to the free resource FAQ below, you seek an attorney to assist with the process.
Your personal statement should include two paragraphs. One paragraph is explaining your history with your faith. Feel free to share when you first came to your faith and the name of your faith. Explain any major activities that you participate in with your organized religion, or if you're not part of an organized religion explain that, but emphasize how your faith is connected with a major religion.
The second paragraph should explain why you feel the vaccine is against your faith.
Your personal statement should be between two paragraphs and two pages long.
See also Considerations When Writing a Personal Statement.
If you object to sharing your personal faith, you can state early in your statement that you're sharing personal information and that you don't generally like to share your personal faith information, but you are doing so because you are being required to do so.
Sometimes, getting started is the hardest hurdle to overcome.
For the first paragraph, here is a sentence starter:
I first came to my faith as a child. My parents...
For the second paragraph, here is a sentence starter:
It is against my religious faith to take the COVID-19 vaccines because… (Reason 1).
(Give two examples and relate them back to the principles your faith teaches you.)
See an example of a Personal Statement based on the New Testament.
See an example of a Personal Statement based on Judaism.
If you're uncomfortable relating your personal statement back to your religion because you don't participate in many aspects of your religion, you might consider the following:
This is new for a lot of people and many people are in a similar situation, but you might be surprised to find that if you begin rolling your reasons for being opposed to the vaccine around in your heart and mind, a spiritual spark, a spark that relates to your history with religion, is there, at the root. For example, aligning your actions with truth is a principle found throughout all religions and faiths. As is the use of wisdom. By aligning your actions and choices with discernment and discretion, skills you learned in your faith, when faced with difficult decisions, you are tapping into wisdom. Each of us has a spark inside ourselves for a personal relationship to the Divine, and that personal relationship can be written in your personal statement even if you don't consider yourself a perfect member of a traditional religious body. Your job is to soul search to see if you find a way to connect your personal statement to your faith.
You don't have to agree with your religious faith's position on taking or not taking the vaccine. So long as your belief is sincerely held, you meet the standard that case law has supported, generally.
We don't yet know how cases will be decided with respect to COVID-19, but we do know that in the past, courts have provided guidance. That guidance includes allowing exemptions for sincerely held beliefs even if those beliefs are not shared by your religion or your religious leaders.
You may be surprised to find that some voices in your religion are in support of your decision. See the following examples:
Church of Health and Healing
Many people are in the same situation. Even if you have taken vaccines and/or flu shots in the past, you have the right to change your view on taking vaccines, especially a vaccine that uses new technology and has no long-term studies completed. You can mention this in your personal statement and even connect it to the wisdom and guidance your faith shares with you on using discretion and making wise decisions.
You are being asked to assert the sincerity of your belief and this takes some thought, and so less isn’t necessarily better, but you don’t have to write a book either. You can keep it simple, but complete. Share your heartfelt reasons, let go and let it flow. If you do this, it will make it very hard for someone to question your sincerity. How can someone say they know what is inside your heart? Allow your personal religious statement to be just that, personal. But don't undermine your case. Learn as much as you can about what does and doesn't qualify and if you're unsure, contact an attorney to help you understand where the law is and is not on your side.
A successful personal statement can include scripture, but it doesn’t have to. Yet, it's recommended. Adding scripture may even help you get in the flow of writing a personal statement. Scripture acts as a tool and a guide. It encourages one to follow truth, to make wise decisions, and to act rightly in the face of challenges (e.g., deception), so that one stays out of harm’s way.
You may find that if you Google search a term like “discretion”, or “discernment,” or making “wise decisions,” along with the faith that you feel most connected to that there will be an abundance of material for you to work with. Adding scripture can enhance your letter and add to the heartfelt sincerity aspect of it.
If so, in your personal request for an exemption, you may include passages from your religious text. Explain how those passages relate to your reasons for not wanting to take the vaccine.
If you've prayed for guidance or direction as to whether to take the vaccine, make mention of that in your request for an exemption.
You can still have success writing a personal statement, even without a priest, pastor, or rabbi, or another religious official, providing a supporting letter, but if you have one, it is a great idea, and it is important to make use of him or her. It adds strength to your letter, but it is not a dealbreaker, so don’t let it get in the way of you submitting your statement. Many letters have success without this extra letter from a religious leader.
Ask your religious leader, someone whom you know from your history in your religious faith, for a short statement attesting to your religious belief. Let them know that they don't have to feel the same way as you about taking the vaccine, but that it is your sincere belief that it goes against your faith. Explain to them why. Ask them to send you a letter attesting to the fact that they believe it is your sincere belief that you should not take the vaccine.
Sure, start by feeling the truth of your conviction. This is not a writing contest. Let go of your fear and see it as an opportunity to share your voice. You are being wronged and you have the right to state your noble position.
Here’s a starter to help you get going:
Everything about this vaccine goes against my sense (the sense God has given me) of what is the right thing to do.
Write a sentence for each of these (or come up with some more of your own) and connect them to your faith:
- Speed of the trials
- No long-term studies
- Shown to have harmful side effects
- No liability for pharmaceutical companies
If any of these resonate with you, connect them with your faith to have your voice heard.
It’s personal for a reason, and so it is best to write it yourself. If you have someone else write the letter for you, you run the risk of an employer who reviews it sensing that it is not your “voice”. This can hurt you if your employer’s basis for the denial of the letter is a lack of sincerity. You will have more strength in the unfortunate situation of a denial if your letter was written by you because your rebuttal will be genuine. Use one of the sentence starters provided on this page, you can do it.
Generally, the law does not support an exemption for a creed. There may be exceptions. We highly recommend you speak to an attorney for guidance if you would like to use a creed as the basis for your exemption. Each state has their own laws.
One interesting, though, perhaps, not heartening case that speaks to this issue is Friedman v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, 102 Cal. App. 4th 39 (2002) holding that an employee’s veganism is not a religious belief.
Note also, however, the following, reported in Reuters:
"Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center fired customer service representative Sakile Chenzira in 2010 for refusing a flu vaccine because she was a vegan. Chenzira sued and the hospital wanted the case dismissed, arguing she was mistaking a dietary habit for a religious belief. The federal judge ruled in her favor based on the sincerity of her views. The parties settled privately.
'As an employer, you can inquire whether an employee has a sincerely held religious belief. It's just kind of a fraught investigation,' said Brian Dean Abramson, an author and specialist in vaccine law.
He said employers have to be careful not to appear to be invading the worker's privacy or harassing them and businesses have to be aware that employees' religious views may change over time."
Again, this is a complicated, case specific question that should be addressed to an attorney that handles employment law in your state.
We recommend every employee who is seeking an exemption use an attorney if they are able to for the following reasons. Certainly, many individuals have submitted a request for a religious exemption on their own. And much of the information on this website can provide you guidance. However, we are not attorneys and do not pretend to be giving legal advice for any one situation. This is a developing area of law, with no case law that relates to COVID-19 exemptions. That said, the case law will be made as these cases get brought to the courts and to the administrative agencies. It would be nice if there were a cookie cutter way to guarantee you will receive the exemption. But that's just not the case. All you have to do is hear of an individual who submitted, on their own, without an attorney, for an exemption from their employer and was denied and you feel the gut-wrenching question, "What if they had used an attorney." While there is no guarantee that using an attorney to send a demand letter, and engage in the demand letter process, will yield an exemption, if you can use one, we certainly, unambiguously recommend you do.
Furthermore, it is our position that we want citizens and attorneys together in this battle against violations of civil rights. No civil rights victories have been won without active attorney involvement, along with active citizen involvement.
There is an additional percentage that the attorney will receive of any amount recovered from your employer, should your employer not grant the exemption and negotiate a severance payment. This fee is spelled out clearly in the retainer agreement. (See the retainer agreement.)
Please note: There is no guarantee that the employer will pay a severance. However, the attorney will work toward negotiating one with your employer, as laid out in the retainer agreement.
You can certainly hire an employment lawyer if your exemption request is not granted. It, generally, is harder to get the exemption request granted after it has been rejected. For this reason, among many others, we recommend hiring an attorney to assist in the process of submitting your request, which they can accompany with a demand letter, part of the demand letter negotiation process.
If your employer says no to your religious exemption request, you may have legal recourse to file with either an administrative body or a court, depending upon the laws of your state.
Please note: it is better to involve an attorney in your matter before you submit an exemption request if you are looking to have the assistance of an attorney after the exemption request is either granted or denied.
One of the benefits of hiring an attorney as part of your effort to gain a vaccine exemption request is that it sends a message to your employer that your employer should be careful to not further target you. If the employer does, having your attorney engaged already, will help you to take additional action, though the subsequent action will require a new retainer agreement with your attorney, and has additional charges, depending upon which action the attorney recommends at the time and whether you agree to move forward further with the attorney.
You need to be seen by a doctor, and have the doctor evaluate your situation. If your doctor believes you should receive a medical exemption they can provide a doctor's letter for you to then send to your employer. Qualifying for a medical exemption is not easy and so, we recommend you consult with an attorney on your situation.
PLEASE NOTE, AGAIN, WE UNAMBIGUOUSLY RECOMMEND, IN YOUR EFFORT TO SEEK AN EXEMPTION, THAT YOU HIRE AN ATTORNEY TO ENGAGE IN THE DEMAND LETTER PROCESS WITH YOUR EMPLOYER.
Written by Christopher Dunn, Esq.