Former Washington AG: Religious exemption form for state workers is ‘begging for trouble’

Aug 26, 2021, 5:01 AM | Updated: 9:10 am
vaccine, exemption...
A clinical pharmacist with Seattle Indian Health Board prepares to administer a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images).
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Governor Jay Inslee’s office drafted an exemption form intended to disqualify as many staff as possible from avoiding his COVID vaccine mandate. As it’s written right now, if a staff member took an antacid from a doctor, it would disqualify them from the religious exemption.

Rantz: Email shows COVID religion exemption intentionally written to disqualify staff

According to an email that was sent internally by his general counsel, Kathryn Leathers, it says: “Exemptions: medical for sure; and religious (if we have to; if yes, as narrow as possible).”

Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that he had the same initial reaction when he saw the email, which is that the governor’s office “doesn’t want people to be able to claim the religious exemption if they can avoid it.”

“And they’re trying to really limit it in a way which I think is problematic under the First Amendment,” he said. “So we’ll have to see if this effort succeeds or it’s challenged in court.”

McKenna says this is the kind of claim that could result in a temporary restraining order against this particular language used in the exemption form.

“Because you’re facing a choice between violating your religious beliefs by being vaccinated — if those are your beliefs — on the one hand, and being fired on the other, it really would cry out for injunctive relief while the court sorts through the constitutional issues,” he said.

Additionally, McKenna says he’s not sure that the governor’s office has the right to inquire into the basis for someone’s religious beliefs and their claim of exemption.

“I agree with you that you can’t discriminate between religions,” he said to Rantz. “But in addition to that, I don’t think you can narrow down the exemption in the way they’re trying to narrow it by essentially telling you if you’ve ever accepted medicine, you can’t legitimately claim to have a religious objection to the vaccine. The fact is someone could have a religious objection to a particular medication or type of medication, even while accepting other kinds of health care.”

COVID vaccine exemption asks if state workers received medicine as an adult

“I think that the governor’s office is begging for trouble here in their pretty transparent attempt to limit people’s ability to exercise their religious beliefs,” he added.

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Former Washington AG: Religious exemption form for state workers is ‘begging for trouble’