California megachurch pastor offers exemption letters for COVID vaccination resisters
The Sacramento-area pastor says he fears that hospital, government and education workers are ‘going to lose their jobs because of a mandate.’
A year after defying statewide health orders by continuing to hold indoor services, a Sacramento-area megachurch pastor is offering religious exemption letters to those who don’t want a COVID-19 vaccination.
“The vaccine poses a morally compromising situation for many people of faith,” Greg Fairrington of Destiny Christian Church said in a written statement to The Times. “The religious exemptions we are issuing speak to that, honor that, and affirm that.”
In videos posted on social media, Fairrington said he feared that hospital, government and education workers are “going to lose their jobs because of a mandate.”
His posts about religious exemption letters have been viewed thousands of times. Destiny Christian draws more than 10,000 people between its online services and its Rocklin location.
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Exemption letters aren’t necessary for those workers, since there is no state vaccination mandate, said Michelle Mello, a professor of law and medicine at Stanford University. Those who don’t want the vaccination can get regularly tested.
“You have to do one of two things to protect other people from the risk that you pose to them,” Mello said. “That’s not a mandate. A mandate is when you withhold an important benefit because a person declines to receive vaccination.”
Fairrington said he worked with his church’s legal team to draft the religious exemption letter.
His spokesperson, Tanner Di Bella, declined to share a copy of the letter with The Times.
“The exemption is only issued to individuals who have a sincere belief in religious conviction stated in the document, so we cannot distribute it to the media,” he said.
An application form on the church’s website asks congregants to select the industry they work in, then confirm whether they are “a born again Christian who believes in the validity of Scripture.”
Di Bella said he could not provide the number of letters the church has issued.
In his statement, Fairrington said the church has “received thousands of phone calls from doctors, nurses, educators, and first responders, in tears, fearing that their livelihoods hang in the balance because of their religious convictions.”
Mello calls Fairrington’s letters “irrelevant.”
In most workplaces, federal law already requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with valid religious objections to vaccinations by offering alternatives like testing, she said.
Some employees who refuse the vaccination can be reassigned to other duties without losing their jobs, Mello said. For example, a nurse can move from the intensive care unit to the claims office.
Mello said courts recognize “bona fide” and “sincere” religious exemptions but tend to be skeptical about personal objections cloaked in religious language.
If most people in a church have been inoculated against polio and mumps and are only raising concerns about the COVID-19 vaccination, “that is going to raise an index of suspicion about their claim,” Mello said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.