Breaking News
Get Actionable Insights with InvestingPro+: Start 7 Day FREE Trial Register here
Investing Pro 0
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

U.S. pastors, advocacy groups mobilize against COVID-19 vaccine mandates

CoronavirusOct 14, 2021 10:16AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pastor Shane Vaughn delivers an address in Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., June 2, 2021 in this frame grab taken from a video. Picture taken June 2, 2021. Shan Vaughn/Handout via REUTERS 2/2

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) - From the outside, First Harvest Ministries in Waveland, Mississippi, could almost be mistaken for a storage shed were it not for the steeple.

From the modest building however, Shane Vaughn, the Pentecostal church's pastor, has helped spearhead an online movement promoting personal faith as a way around workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

He posts form letters for U.S. workers seeking religious exemptions that have been downloaded from his website around 40,000 times, according to a screen shot of web traffic he shared with Reuters.

"This is the only way out," said Vaughn, 48, of the letters, which he makes available for free, that mix Biblical scripture with warnings to employers of legal fallout if they are disregarded.

As the Biden administration prepares a federal vaccine mandate and more states and companies impose them to help accelerate the pandemic's end, letter-writing efforts by religious leaders are being reinforced by legal advocacy groups such as Liberty Counsel.

The organization said it has sent more than 100 letters to companies including United Airlines Holdings (NASDAQ:UAL) Inc and Tyson Foods Inc (NYSE:TSN) vowing litigation if they improperly reject religious exemption requests.

United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said the airline received the letter but it had no impact on the company's actions. Tyson did not comment on the letter.

United said about 2,000 of its 67,000 U.S. employees have requested religious or medical exemptions. Tyson said only a "small percentage" of its more than 100,000 employees had requested religious or medical accommodations ahead of its Nov. 1 deadline.

U.S. employers are required by law to make reasonable job changes to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, although they can seek information to determine if the beliefs are religious in nature and "sincerely held."

Many employers want regulators to provide guidance for scrutinizing exemption requests to help protect them from lawsuits alleging they were wrongly denied, said Roger King, of the HR Policy Association, a forum for large companies.

While few organized religions oppose vaccines, according research by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, U.S. law defines religion very broadly to include unfamiliar belief systems with few adherents.


Employment lawyers said form letters taken off the internet might suggest a person's beliefs are not sincere, but it would be difficult for an employer to determine that. Employers could be on stronger legal ground to reject exemption requests that are based on verifiable false statements about the vaccines, the lawyers said.

"Religious exemption requests have over years been much more rare and now we're dealing with them on a mass basis," said Kimberly Harding, an employment lawyer at Nixon Peabody, which advises companies.

Temple University Health System in Philadelphia, which employs 10,700 people, has already received 180 religious exemption requests, a significant increase from what it usually gets for its annual flu shot requirement, said John Lasky, the system's chief human resources officer.

Some of the exemption request forms included letter attachments that used similar phrasing, which Lasky said might indicate coaching, although he said they were not a determining factor in whether a request was granted.

What mattered was whether the person could articulate how their beliefs prevented them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, such as if they "tied it to eternal damnation," Lasky said.

In at least one case, an employer reversed its decision to deny a religious exemption after receiving a letter from Liberty Counsel.

Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania told a nursing student on Sept. 7 it was rejecting her request because it was based on a "factually incorrect" link between vaccines and aborted fetal cells, according to correspondence disclosed by Liberty Counsel that redacted the student's name.

A week later, Liberty Counsel sent a seven-page letter to Lehigh citing health officials in North Dakota and Louisiana who said there was a link between the vaccines and fetal cells. The group demanded Lehigh either approve the student's request or face "prompt litigation."

It approved the request the next day. Lehigh did not respond to requests for comment.

A Vaughn letter turned up in one of the few successful lawsuits against a vaccine mandate. Western Michigan University granted an exemption to a student athlete who used his letter but was still barred from school sports until the court intervened.

Harry Mihet, an attorney with Liberty Counsel, said the Christian group receives thousands of messages weekly from individuals claiming they had an exemption request denied for improper reasons. Those include that the person's denomination endorsed the shots or that the Pope was vaccinated, neither of which have bearing on an individual's beliefs.

"I think these employers run the risk of being tied up in litigation until kingdom come," Mihet said.

Vaughn, who served a three-year prison sentence for fraud and had a stint running an auto dealership, said he now spends 80% of his day helping people with employer requests for more information, such as describing how an employee's beliefs conflict with a hospital's vaccine policy.

Vaughn is encouraged by companies pushing back on his exemption letters. "They are making it more difficult and adding layers to the process," he said. "It's proof it works."

U.S. pastors, advocacy groups mobilize against COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email