LIEB BLOG

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs are Undermined by Social Media Posts About Politics

If you want to avoid a workplace vaccine mandate, be very careful what you post on social media about politics and vaccines.


According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace, "[s]ocial, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not “religious” beliefs protected by Title VII." This is cited in the EEOC Compliance Manual § 12–I(A)(1).


Instead, per the EEOC, a religious belief concerns “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death."


To qualify for a vaccine exemption, you need a religious or medical reason, not a political one. 


In fact, employers are already combing the internet to confirm whether your claimed religious belief is insincere and merely a manifestation of your politics. Taking this a step further, if you sue your employer for failing-to-accommodate your religious beliefs, be warned that your social media posts are fair game and are a gold mine for a good trial lawyer who will tear you apart on the stand. 


As background, the underpinnings of the EEOC's position stems from the United States Supreme Court, which first set the test for a sincerely held religious belief in U.S. v. Seeger, when conscientious-objectors sought accommodations from service in the armed forces (a/k/a, draft exemptions). Per the Supreme Court, the test is "whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption." This test was adopted to the employment discrimination context by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Protos v. Volkswagen of America, Inc. 


Back to you. An employer can and should challenge whether you sincerely hold your espoused religious belief before granting you an accommodation from its rules and policies, like a vaccine mandate. 


As an illustration of what you are looking at in such a challenge, see the case of Sidelinger v. Harbor Creek School Distr., where an employee sought a religious exemption from his employer's "requirement of wearing an identification badge" because of his claims that wearing a badge evoked the "sins of pride and hypocrisy contrary to his religious belief... [as] an old-fashioned, very conservative Roman Catholic." In the case, the District Court made clear that while it would not question the truth of the belief, it would certainly question whether the employee truly held that belief. Further, the Court emphasized that it is an employee's burden "to show that he holds a sincere religious belief in conflict with his employer's requirements." Finally, the Court explained that an employee's sincerity and credibility are the basis for a factbinder's assessment, which includes internet posts. By the way, the Court found that the employee did NOT qualify for a religious accommodation. 


Are your claimed religious objections to the COVID vaccine sincere or BS political crap? 





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