Citing Religious Liberty - Federal Court Prohibits Vaccine Mandate

 August 22, 2022

In a case surrounding United Airlines’ vaccine mandate, a federal court denied a petition, for a rehearing with

one judge accusing the company of  “coerc[ing] its employees into violating their religious beliefs.”

Widely considered the most conservative federal court, Judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit voted 13-4 on Thursday to deny a rehearing of United Airlines’ request to vacate a panel opinion from February. This panel held that the company policy of vaccine mandates inflicted irreparable harm and remanded the case to district court.

Admonishing the airline for creating a “crisis of conscience” for its employees, Trump-appointed Judge James Ho penned a concurring opinion, warning about a new wave of corporatism, in the United States, that seeks to inflict its cultural values on Americans.

In his opinion Ho wrote, that mandating employees with sincere religious objections to take vaccines that -

“were developed using aborted fetal tissue” (or face indefinite unpaid leave, is an) “obvious irreparable injury” because it “press[ures employees] into violating one’s faith.” Adding-

“Being placed on indefinite unpaid leave because your employer doesn’t like your religious beliefs is obviously an adverse employment action and an actionable claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And you’ve obviously suffered irreparable injury when you’re forced to violate your faith in order to get your job back. The injury would be entirely reparable by money damages if it was just about a loss of money.”

“But it’s not. It’s about a loss of faith. And it’s about a crisis of conscience. You’re being coerced into sacrificing your faith in order to keep your job. No measure of damages makes sense in this scenario. To keep your job, you must violate your faith. How much money would it take for you to sell out your faith?” He emphasized-

“courts should hold [corporations] accountable, no less and no more than individuals.” …Corporations are not people. But like people, corporations are capable of following the law as well as violating it. Moreover, by combining and coordinating human efforts, corporations can do a lot more. They can have a greater impact on society than most individuals. As a result, corporations can achieve far greater good—and cause much greater harm. So when corporations violate the law, courts should hold them accountable, no less and no more than individuals.”

(Noting this case is) “pathbreaking,” (because of the) “behavior of industry” … “Historically, corporations typically focus on increasing shareholder value, not on imposing certain cultural values on others. But that is rapidly changing,”

- Judge James Ho, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

One of the strictest coronavirus vaccine mandates in the country for a private company, United Airlines, last August, told its 67,000 U.S. employees that they would have to get vaccinated against the virus or face firing.  Reportedly, 96 percent complied with the mandate, though several hundred who refused were fired. Roughly 2,200 employees received religious and medical exemptions. The company granted these employees what it called a “reasonable accommodation” by placing them on unpaid leave while stripping them of their medical benefits.

In an ongoing lawsuit, in September 2021, six United Airlines employees sued the company over the mandate in a class action lawsuit on behalf of the 2,200 seeking exemptions, alleging the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by discriminating against them based on their religious beliefs and medical conditions.

Back in the hands of District Judge Mark Pittman, a Trump conservative the case continues. United subsequently allowed unvaccinated staff to return to work on March 28, citing as the reason for the policy change, a “steep decline” in coronavirus cases.

In a hypothetical situation, in which an employer does not care about employee productivity, Ho wrote, the employer

 “insists that you abandon certain religious beliefs he finds offensive, whether it’s abortion, marriage, sexuality, gender, or something else.”

“But here’s the thing: What was once hypothetical is now rapidly becoming reality. Examples of this abound,”... “So, this case may be the first, but I suspect it will not be the last.”

- Judge James Ho, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

In addressing how companies use their market power to make moral rules, Ho also wrote-

“My point today is less ambitious: We know what this new corporate trend is doing to employees. It’s violating the religious convictions of workers across the country. And in cases like this, the injuries are irreparable. So. unlike the dissent, I’m grateful that our court is taking the action it is today.” He concluded.

“And unlike the dissent, I don’t think our circuit will be alone, as cases like this inevitably multiply across the country, assuming corporate trends persist. But if our circuit turns out to be alone in its defense of religious liberty, I’ll be grateful for our actions today all the same, ”

- Judge James Ho, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

A man of depth and conviction, Judge Ho has made the case for our religious liberties and how his court has upheld them at present. He is demonstrating the effort taken by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to ensure that corporate America will be held to the same standards that the individual is held to under the Constitution. Further he sounds hopeful that other courts will uphold the law as well in favor of America’s liberties.

In the current state of political affairs in this nation, this judgement and opinion, as Judge Ho has brought it forth, are a refreshing pool of water in a large patch of dry, hardened ground. May other courts follow suit and uphold the law as well.

This circumstance demonstrates how much power there is in a religious conviction, and that standing up for that which one truly believes in, can win the day and inspire others.

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

-Thomas Jefferson
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