Christian groups ask Supreme Court to stop Biden employer vaccine mandate

A COVID-19 vaccination injection is administered.
A COVID-19 vaccination injection is administered. | Unsplash/Mufid Majnun

Christian organizations have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the enforcement of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate following an appeals court decision last Friday allowing the employer mandate to take effect.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved a stay issued by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing for the rule stipulating that businesses with 100 or more employees require employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing by early January. 

The First Liberty Institute, a legal nonprofit specializing in religious liberty cases, filed an emergency application for stay with the nation’s high court over the weekend on behalf of multiple faith-based organizations, arguing that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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The application was filed with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who oversees the 6th Circuit. 

“The Ministries seek an immediate stay of [OSHA’s emergency temporary standard] while the court of appeals considers the merits of their petitions for review, because the ETS fails to provide any religious exemptions or accommodations for religious employers as required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the First Liberty application states. 

First Liberty represents the Daystar Television Network, Inc.; the American Family Association, Inc.; and Answers in Genesis, Inc.

On behalf of Christian colleges and seminaries, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that has successfully argued several religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court, asked Justice Kavanaugh to halt the enforcement of the federal vaccine mandate. 

ADF represents the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, Sioux Falls Catholic Schools, Cambridge Christian School, Home School Legal Defense Association and the Christian Employers Alliance.

ADF contends that “relief is warranted because the Mandate seeks to issue sweeping non-workplace, public health measures.” ADF believes that “OSHA failed to satisfy the requirements of the ETS provision.”

“It is problematic enough that the Mandate exceeds OSHA’s authority, imposes $3 billion in compliance costs, seeks to resolve one of the most hotly debated political topics in recent memory, and seeks to alter the federal-state balance,” continued the ADF.

“But the Mandate also inserts federal power into the employment decisions of religious institutions, despite the fact that the OSH Act does not allow OSHA to regulate religious nonprofit organizations.”

The Heritage Foundation, a petitioner in a lawsuit against the mandate, also expressed the intention of continuing the legal battle against OSHA. President Kevin Roberts said in a statement Saturday that his organization will “explore all legal options for challenging the circuit court’s decision.”

“President Biden was wrong to impose this authoritarian mandate on the American people and the circuit court’s ruling only adds confusion and uncertainty. If this ruling is upheld, it will set a dangerous precedent for future encroachments upon our freedom,” said Roberts.

“While we are disappointed in the 6th Circuit’s misguided ruling, we remain confident we will ultimately prevail. Until then, we won’t stop fighting for the millions of Americans affected by this unlawful mandate.”

OSHA unveiled its temporary emergency standards final rule in November. 

“OSHA has determined that many employees in the U.S. who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 face grave danger from exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the workplace,” the agency stated at the time.

“This finding of grave danger is based on the severe health consequences associated with exposure to the virus along with evidence demonstrating the transmissibility of the virus in the workplace and the prevalence of infections in employee populations.”

OSHA maintains that the rule is “necessary to protect unvaccinated workers from the risk of contracting COVID-19 at work,” adding that “workers are becoming seriously ill and dying as a result of occupational exposures to COVID-19, when a simple measure, vaccination, can largely prevent those deaths and illnesses.”

The majority of the 6th Circuit panel concluded that OSHA has long had the authority to “regulate hazards that co-exist in the workplace and in society but are at heightened risk in the workplace.”

“OSHA’s issuance of the ETS is not an enormous expansion of its regulatory authority. OSHA has regulated workplace health and safety on a national scale since 1970, including controlling the spread of disease,” the court’s opinion authored by Obama appointee Judge Jane Stranch reads.

“[V]accination and medical examinations are both tools that OSHA historically employed to contain illness in the workplace. The ETS is not a novel expansion of OSHA’s power; it is an existing application of authority to a novel and dangerous worldwide pandemic.”

Judge Joan Larsen, a Trump appointee, dissented.

“Here, the Secretary asks for maximum authority and maximum discretion; he wants to
issue a rule of national import, covering two-thirds of American workers, and he wants to do it without clear congressional authorization, without even public notice and comment, and with a capacious understanding of necessity,” Larsen wrote. “Such a combination of authority and discretion is unprecedented, and the Secretary is unlikely to show that he has been granted it.”

In a statement Saturday, the U.S. Department of Labor said it won’t penalize companies that don’t comply with the regulations until Jan. 10. The agency won’t issue citations for companies that don’t comply with its testing requirements until Feb. 9 “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance.”

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