Numerous entries have started appearing in the Federal Register with notices from federal agencies describing new databases they are creating to compile lists of federal employees who are seeking exemptions from President Biden’s federal employee vaccine mandate for religious reasons.
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency
Some of the Federal Register notices are more clear and straightforward. The notice from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency explains that it is creating the “Employee Religious Exception Request Information System” for the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.
The notice explains:
This system of records maintains personal religious information collected in response to religious accommodation requests for religious exception from the federally mandated vaccination requirement in the context of a public health emergency or similar health and safety incident, such as a pandemic, epidemic, natural disaster or national or regional emergency; and/or any other lawful collection of employee information or data that is necessary to ensure a safe and healthy environment for individuals who are occupying PSA facilities, attending PSA-sponsored events, or otherwise engaged in official business on behalf of the Agency. The system of records will assist the Agency in the collection, storing, dissemination, and disposal of employee religious exemption request information collected and maintained by the Agency, as referenced above.
This new database of federal employees’ religious information “will be effective upon publication [of the Federal Register notice]” (which was January 11, 2022), but the public can submit comments on it until February 10, 2022.
Department of Transportation’s “Employee Accommodations Files”
Other notices were not quite as straightforward as to what was being done or why. For instance, the Department of Transportation published a notice on November 18, 2021, which said that it is creating a new system of records called “Employee Accommodations Files.”
According to the notice:
This system allows DOT to collect, use, maintain, and disseminate the records needed to process, manage, maintain, and resolve reasonable accommodation requests from employees or applicants for employment based on a medical condition/disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. This includes requests for a medical or religious accommodation to decline the COVID-19 vaccination. (emphasis added) The information will be used to determine whether accommodations are legally required in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Some additional details about the database are provided much further into the notice, and exemptions from vaccines are specifically stated as a reason for having it:
This system will collect information related to individuals requesting medical/disability and religious accommodations. These accommodation requests include but are not limited to requests for exemptions from vaccines. (emphasis added) By requesting an accommodation, individuals are authorizing DOT to collect and maintain a record of the information submitted to support the request for the accommodation. The information contained within this system of records will be collected directly from the individual employees or applicants for federal employment who have requested accommodations. This new system will be included in DOT’s inventory of record systems.
The stated purpose of this new database will be “to collect information from individuals seeking medical/disability and/or religious accommodations in order to approve or deny their requests.” It will cover “current DOT employees and applicants for federal employment who have requested medical/disability and/or religious accommodations.”
Among the data on its employees the DOT will be collecting are “the name of the individual seeking accommodations, nature of the accommodation sought, including but not limited for religious accommodations, how complying with such a requirement would burden religious exercise, how long the belief has been held and the reason for seeking exemption.”
The data will be considered unclassified and stored in a third-party cloud environment according to the notice.
The window for comments on the DOT notice closed on December 20, 2021, and there was one lone comment. The notice apparently caught the attention of the Missouri Attorney General who submitted a letter to the agency expressing opposition to the proposal.
Eric Schmitt wrote in his letter:
The chilling effect on a citizen’s exercise of religion due to the creation of this Database is alarming. First, the federal government decrees that a citizen who seeks a medical exemption of a waiver based on a sincerely held religious belief has automatically consented to being entered in the Database. To put it plainly, invoking the legal right to exercise one’s religious faith risks simultaneously waiving that same legal right.
Other Agencies Compiling Similar Databases
Other agencies posted similar notices in the Federal Register recently. It’s unknown how many there are in total, but a recent report suggests that there are as many as 19. Among those agencies are the Justice Department, Department of Health and Human Services, Selective Service System, General Services Administration and Treasury Department.