Vaccine mandate violates religious beliefs, lawsuits

(Credit: lakshmiprasad S/Getty Images)

A continuing care retirement community in Alabama is facing a religious discrimination lawsuit after it allegedly fired four workers who refused to comply with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, the four former employees — all Christians — of Westminster Village in Spanish Fort, AL, allege religious discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination and a hostile work environment.

Speech-language pathologist Sloan Hamill, director of nursing Katherine L. Howerin, assistant director of nursing Jennifer Sigley and Tina Wolfe, a registered nurse, accused Westminster Village of firing them last fall for refusing mRNA COVID vaccines -19 (Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna) based on sincere religious beliefs.

The suit also names Acts Retirement–Life Communities and Presbyterian Retirement Corp., the owner and operator of Westminster Village.

A spokesperson for Acts Retirement-Life Communities said McKnight Senior Residence that it sought to create “the safest living and working environment” for its residents and staff in Westminster Village throughout the pandemic.

“As part of our processes, we have implemented a vaccination mandate for all employees and considered the implications of the declinations on the health and safety of our communities,” the spokesperson said. “As circumstances continue to evolve and the availability of treatments has increased, we have continued to evaluate our protocols and have modified them as appropriate.”

The spokesperson said the employee vaccination mandate remains in place, with accommodations made for those with approved religious and medical exemptions.

In the lawsuit, the four former workers claim that they “possess sincere religious beliefs that their bodies are a temple” and that they should not be inoculated or forced to be inoculated with any “experimental foreign substance or materials biological/medical that will alter aspects of their human body.

They argue in the lawsuit that there is a “fundamental difference in traditional vaccines, such as chicken pox or influenza, between the three marketed COVID-19 vaccines” that use mRNA technology. The lawsuit also states that as Christians, they object to receiving “compulsory injections of any of the experimental vaccines based on the fact and/or belief that the COVID-19 vaccines were manufactured in the using fetal cell lines from induced abortions”.

In the lawsuit, the workers said they were required to prove the sincerity of their beliefs through a “grossly biased appeals system that completely misunderstood their religious beliefs”. The lawsuit also claims that the organizations refused their exemptions for fear of losing federal COVID-19 relief funds if employees were not vaccinated.

Acts Retirement–Life Communities passed an employee vaccination mandate on July 30, 2021. Employees providing direct care to residents had to be fully vaccinated by October 1, 2021, and all other employees had to meet the vaccination requirements of here on November 1st.

Sigley and Howerin argued that the requests for religious accommodation they originally filed were granted but later overturned. Hamill and Wolfe said they also filed religious and medical exemption requests, which were denied. All were placed on inactive status on November 1, 2021, with their employment then terminated on November 30, 2021.

Former employees call for back pay and lost benefits, as well as the creation of an equality and equity task force to determine the effectiveness of the organization’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 19.

Ruth R. Culp