How easy is it to get a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate? Biden to make case for spending plan, taxing rich. Myanmar rebels declare ‘war’ on junta.
1000s seek religious mandate exemptions, but will it be that easy?
As more vaccine mandates have been introduced, thousands of people across the country are seeking religious exemptions. Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that employers should make “reasonable accommodations” for employees’ “sincerely held religious beliefs”. But this guidance is obviously rather vague. What type of accommodation is “reasonable”? How does one distinguish a “sincerely held religious belief” from a dodge. To what extent should employers even try to make that distinction?
Even legal experts and religious scholars are of two minds on this issue when it comes to vaccines. On the one hand, case law and precedent are clearly on the side of the state or employer when it comes to matters of public health. Some say it may not even be mandatory for employers to give employees the choice to opt-out of things like vaccines on religious grounds. On the other hand, in practice, employers have an incentive to take employees at their word to avoid legal scuffles and bad press.
How easy will it be to get a religious exemption?
Several evangelical faith groups are offering forms to fill out to apply for religious exemptions (in exchange for “suggested donations). But for some employees, it may not be as easy as just filling out a form.
The picture will vary from company to company. However, businesses in some sectors like healthcare are taking a harder line on religious exemptions. While no major religion prohibits vaccines for its congregants, a personal religious belief may qualify if it’s sincere. But some employers are setting up protocols to examine and test that sincerity. This can include a formal interview or review process to vet which employees have a “sincerely held religious belief” and which are refusing on political grounds.
One common basis for refusing the vaccines is the fact that the manufacturers used cell lines from aborted fetuses (from the 70s or 80s) to develop or test the efficacy of their formulas. Of course, most common medicines that we rely on today have used this kind of testing for their medicines at some juncture.
In answer to this, Conway Regional Health System in Arkansas issued a form for employees requesting religious exemptions to sign. The form lists the plethora of common medicines -including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H and Tums — that were developed or tested using fetal cell lines. The form then says that by signing, employees attest that “my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will not use” any of the listed medications.
But even if you do get a religious exemption, that’s no guarantee against losing your job or losing certain employment benefits.
The EEOC says that employers are not required to make accommodations where they present an “undue burden” or are overly costly. Increased risk of spreading disease and lost productivity may present an “undue burden”. So might creating isolated office space. Or having to remove them from certain duties where they could infect others.
So if an employee’s refusal to get vaccinated presents an “undue burden”, there’s no guarantee a religious exemption will shield them from dismissal.
Even if employers are willing and able to make accommodations, they may withhold certain perks or benefits for unvaccinated employees. For example, employers could bar unvaccinated employees from business travel, or access to certain facilities, like gyms, if the company has one. They could also refuse paid time off for quarantining.
Businesses may also impose certain health-related costs on unvaccinated employees. For example, unvaccinated employees at Delta Airlines now have to pay $200 extra per month for their company insurance. The average hospital stay for COVID costs about $50,000, and insurance companies are passing the cost burdens on to employers. Employers may have to charge unvaccinated employees more to offset these costs.
Since unvaccinated employees will also have to test weekly, the costs will add up there too. With the new mandates for companies with 100 employees or more, it’s unclear as yet whether the company or the employee will have to pony up for the tests. Business groups have asked for further clarity on this issue.
Biden to make case for spending plan, taxing rich
President Biden will make a public address this afternoon to drum up public support for the Democrat’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill – and making the rich pay for it. Earlier this week, Democrats released a budge plan for the bill, projecting that raising taxes on the rich and corporations could pay for as much as $2.9 trillion of the spending over its ten years. Some experts say this is actually a low ball figure. The budget proposes reversing Trump’s tax cuts, but not fully restoring them even to their 2016 levels.
Yesterday, Biden met with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and others who oppose the spending plan for one reason or another. Some claim the spending will increase inflation. Others have objected to the tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations while simultaneously raising objections about government debt. Still others object to particular provisions of the bill. Manchin, for example, has raised all these objections. He specifically dislikes the climate change provisions in the bill, which is not surprising giving his deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Time to pay their fair share
Given these entrenched interests, it seems doubtful the meeting at the White House bore much fruit. So, Biden will take his case directly to the American people. America’s wealthiest have become $1.2 trillion wealthier during the pandemic, while less wealthy Americans have struggled to make ends meet. Leaked IRS files also show that numerous American billionaires have gotten away with paying NO taxes for multiple years.
The pandemic has also revealed the gaping holes in America’s long-neglected social safety net. The reconciliation bill would plug some of these holes and also combat climate change in hopes of averting even greater expenses down the road. Among other things, the bill would:
- Expand Medicare coverage to vision, hearing and dental,
- Lower the Medicare enrolment age to 55 or 60,
- Make 2-year community college tuition free,
- Make new monthly Child Tax Credits permanent,
- Expand universal pre-K to 3 and 4-year-olds and other childcare benefits,
- Invest in affordable housing,
- Improve care for seniors and the disabled,
- Lower drug costs by allowing Medicaid/Medicare to bargain with pharma companies,
- Invest more in infrastructure, green manufacturing, and job training (beyond the $1 trillion bipartisan bill).
- Guarantee workers a total of 12 weeks of paid parental, family and sick leave,
- Prevent and mitigate climate change disasters like wildfires, floods and droughts,
- Invest in clean energy development, including consumer subsidies for electric cars and home weatherizing.
Myanmar rebels declare ‘war’ on junta.
It’s fallen out of the news cycle, but the military junta that seized power in Myanmar by arresting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1 is still in power, and the forces resisting the junta are gearing for an all-out civil war.
Suu Kyi supporters initially took to the streets to protest peacefully. In response the military slaughtered hundreds of protesters including children. Military police have also rounded up thousands of protesters, some of whom were never seen again.
Subsequently, opponents of the military leadership formed a rival “shadow” government. The National Unity Government (NUG) is a coalition of Suu Kyi loyalists and various ethnic groups in the country. The ethnic groups who largely reside around the edges of the country have a long history of armed resistance against the country’s military.
Now you’re all caught up, so what’s new?
Last week, NUG’s acting president Duwa Lashi La announced online that NUG was launching a “people’s defensive war against the military junta”. Already, several armed skirmishes have taken place since the start of the dictatorship, but it’s hardly a fair fight. Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing’s security forces have state-of-the-art weapons and a lot of practice in fighting less-well-armed guerrillas.
From NUG’s point of view, it would seem that the civilians and guerillas have little choice but to fight back with whatever they have. The junta’s security forces have stepped up their assaults on ethnic minority villages and raids on NUG’s urban strongholds.
NUG’s declaration of a “defensive war” is aimed at much as the international community as its in-country supporters. NUG has been fighting for international recognition, including the UN. Clearly they are hoping that the world will come to the rescue by providing monetary and perhaps military support in some form and by imposing harsher sanctions on the junta.
However, NUG’s escalation to violent resistance may have the opposite effect. The junta, meanwhile, is also still campaigning to take Myanmar’s seat at the UN. Allowing this to happen would symbolize the body’s recognition of the military as Myanmar’s legitimate government. But, surprisingly, U.S. and Chinese diplomats recently joined forces put off the UN General Assembly’s decision on whether to give the junta the seat until the end of November. Until then, Myanmar’s sitting representative and Suu Kyi loyalist Kyaw Moe Tun will keep the seat.
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