GOP Lawmakers Tell Biden to Stop Collecting Federal Employees’ Religious Data

A group of House Republicans voiced opposition to agency efforts to collect data on federal employees seeking religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

A group of House Republicans sent a letter to President Biden telling him to direct his administration to stop collecting data on personal religious information of federal employees who have requested exemptions to the vaccine mandate on the basis of their religion.

The news was first reported by the Daily Signal which obtained a copy of the letter.

“Your administration’s attempt to use the power of the federal government to single out Americans who object to the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds is inexcusable and must be withdrawn,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter.

The letter, which was signed by 41 individual lawmakers, was sent in response to news that federal agencies have begun publishing notices in the Federal Register detailing databases they are creating to compile and store information on federal employees who have sought exemptions from the vaccine mandate on the basis of their religion.

For example, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency explains that it is creating the “Employee Religious Exception Request Information System” which “…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…”

As many as 19 federal agencies published similar notices recently in the Federal Register.

The letter added, “Your administration has offered no valid justification for these intrusive databases that will only be used to target Americans who have refused a COVID-19 vaccine because of their religious convictions.”

The Republicans go on to ask in their letter that the Biden administration reply by February 11 to outline “what steps your administration is taking to ensure that the federal government is not targeting Americans based on their decision to apply for a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate.”

Court Injunction Blocking Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate

Complicating all of this is the recent court decision to block the federal government from enforcing the vaccine mandate. The Justice Department is appealing the decision, so the injection may wind up only being temporary while additional litigation is pending, but the final outcome remains to be seen.

For the time being, however, the federal government has suspended enforcement of the federal employee vaccine mandate and directed agencies to suspend further disciplinary action to comply with the court’s injunction, but agencies have been instructed to continue enforcing other COVID protocols based on federal employees’ vaccination statuses such as wearing masks or keeping their distance from one another when in the workplace.

However, the House Republicans sent their letter after the court injunction was issued, so presumably, agencies are continuing to develop and maintain these databases, or at least these lawmakers are concerned that the practice will continue despite the recent court decision.

According to more detailed guidance recently provided by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, “…agencies should not continue to process requests they have already received for disability or religious exceptions to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement…”

However, the Task Force further adds:

If an agency receives a request for an exception from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pursuant to E.O. 14043, the agency should accept the request, hold it in abeyance, and notify the employee who submitted the request that implementation or enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pursuant to E.O. 14043 is currently enjoined and that an exception therefore is not necessary so long as the nationwide injunction is in place.

If the injunction were to be lifted, this implies that agencies would then resume enforcing and collecting the religious and disability exemption requests for the vaccine mandate, and, presumably, continuing to add data to their databases of the religious exemption information.

How all of this will ultimately play out remains to be seen. A myriad of factors can come into play, such as further court decisions, action taken by Congress, the Biden administration, or even a possible government shutdown. We will continue to keep our readers informed of new developments as they arise.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.