Move comes amidst debate over OSHA COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Supreme Court challenge
The Washington Times | by Mark A. Kellner | Tuesday, January 11, 2022
An obscure federal agency has proposed creating a database capturing the names and “personal religious information” of government employees who submit “religious accommodation requests” to be exempted from the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
At least seven other federal agencies, including five Cabinet departments, are apparently setting up similar “personal religious information” databases, according to an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in the District.
The federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia, or CSOSA, published a “notice of a new system of records” in the Federal Register on Tuesday.
The agency, which supervises defendants awaiting trial as well as parolees, aims to “reduce recidivism” and “integrate offenders into the community by connecting them with resources and interventions.”
The federal departments of Treasury, the Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, as well as the General Services Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, have each published proposed rule-makings to implement “systems of records” tracking their workers’ religious accommodation requests.
While there is “some data collection that is likely and legally permissible under Title VII, when an individual at a covered agency requests a religious accommodation,” Sarah Parshall Perry, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government, said, “we have not seen it on a broad scale like this ever.”
President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers took effect Nov. 22 under an executive order he issued Sept. 9. The executive order said its terms were “subject to such exceptions as required by law.”
The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for private employers, which was released Nov. 5 and took effect Monday, requires employers with 100 or more workers to document the vaccination status of each worker, and mandates mask-wearing and weekly testing for COVID-19 for those employees who are unvaccinated.
Numerous states, religious groups, business groups and others have challenged that broader mandate in federal courts, with the Supreme Court weighing an injunction request against the Biden administration directive.
“We’re not clear on what personal religious information is going to be gathered” under the CSOSA proposal, Ms. Perry said, adding that numerous sticky questions will come up.
“How does one as a federal agency determine the sincerity or lack thereof of an individual’s religious beliefs?” she asked rhetorically.
“Normally, information like that goes directly to the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and is maintained for internal purposes, just in the case that there is a future dispute about whether or not religious discrimination exists. However, we’re not told why or how this information is being used. And that smacks of religious discrimination on a grand scale.”
Supreme Court rulings on the subject have emphasized a presumption in favor of an employee’s religious-belief claim, Ms. Perry said.
The Washington Times has contacted Sheila Stokes, CSOSA’s “senior agency official for privacy” requesting a further explanation of the new database proposal and why the agency deems it necessary.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at email@example.com.
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