Sunday, October 03, 2021

Rhode Island Vaccine Mandate, Silent On Religious Exemptions, Is Upheld

In Dr. T v. Alexander-Scott, (D RI, Sept. 30, 2021), a Rhode Island federal district court refused to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of a Rhode Island Department of Health Emergency Regulation that requires all healthcare workers (except if medically exempt) to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Plaintiffs challenge the absence of a provision for religious exemptions.  Rejecting plaintiffs' 1st Amendment challenge, the court held that the regulation is a neutral law of general applicability. Responding to plaintiffs' claim that the Regulation is in conflict with Title VII, the court said in part:

Nothing in the language [of the Regulation] prevents any employer from providing a reasonable accommodation to an employee who seeks one in accord with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Indeed, the Regulation is silent on the issue of religious exemptions. Title VII requires employers to accommodate religious beliefs, practices, or observances only to the extent that doing so would not impose “undue hardship” on the employer.... While the Regulation may make it more difficult for employers to accommodate religious objections; it does not create a “physical impossibility.”