Four Minnesota state legislators are demanding an explanation from the Mayo Clinic Health System for denying employees’ requests for religious exemptions to its COVID -19 vaccine requirement.
In their November 23 letter to Mayo Clinic president and CEO Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., which was reviewed by Health Care News, state Reps. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal), Cal Bahr (R-East Bethel), and Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) state that employees of Mayo Clinic have told them their requests for religious exemptions were rejected.
The legislators asked what qualifies an employee for a religious exemption; whether an objection to the use of fetal tissue cells in the development of a vaccine qualifies for a religious exemption; and how many employees asked and were approved for a religious exemption.
Who Decides Beliefs Sincere?
The legislators also asked how Mayo determines a “belief is sincerely held,” as stated in its application process and who reviews, approves, or rejects the exemptions.
“Who is Mayo Clinic to evaluate the authenticity of a person’s religious beliefs?” the legislators asked.
The legislators also said employers are not equipped to make such judgments fairly or accurately, and without violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Courts Slam on the Brakes
On November 5, the Biden administration put into effect a mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all Medicare and Medicaid providers and their suppliers.
Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana enjoined that order in 10 states—Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia—on November 30. The order has also been challenged nationally.
A federal court has enjoined the mandate against workers employed by federal contractors in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. Another court has stayed nationally the Biden order under OSHA against unvaccinated workers employed by all private companies with 100 workers.
Mayo’s Religious Connections
The nonprofit Mayo employs 65,214 people over three major campuses in Minnesota, Arizona, and Florida, according to its 2019 report. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota includes the Saint Mary’s Campus and the Methodist Campus, two hospitals with religious origins. Religious orders provide comfort to Mayo patients, and have defended the religious freedom of employees, says Matt Dean, who served seven terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now a senior fellow for health care policy at The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News.
“The Sisters of St. Francis, who helped build the reputation of the hospital through generations of tireless service to the sick and suffering in the hospital, also began a history of courageously defending Mayo employees’ right to refrain from performing or assisting in procedures they believe are not consistent with their faith,” aid Dean.
“People who work for Minnesota’s largest employer, who worry about the health risks of the injection, or those who refuse to accept the vaccine for religious reasons, should not have to rely upon prayer that aging nuns will once again provide them legal protection,” said Dean.
Pink Slip or Injection?
The Mayo Clinic set a December 3 deadline for all employees to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated workers will be given paid leave until January 3 and after that, will be terminated if they do not comply with the requirement. The Biden administration put the Mayo Clinic in an impossible situation, says Dean.
“The hospital has fewer empty beds because of sicker patients and staff shortages,” said Dean. “Now, Mayo is forced to fire thousands of employees just as the seasonal flu and Covid are spiking. With nearly 50,000 employees, Mayo is Minnesota’s largest employer.
“As the Minnesota legislature considers a special session to distribute money to heroic frontline workers, those same nurses, therapists, orderlies, and custodians are being forced to choose between a pink slip and an injection,” said Dean. “With three weeks before Christmas, and a growing number of judges and legislatures throwing out the mandate, and decreased bed capacity due to nurse shortages, and the winter coming in like a lion, firing thousands of health care workers seems like a bad idea.”