Buddhism beliefs

Define “sincere religious beliefs” that could excuse compulsory vaccination against COVID-19? | CDF Labor Law LLP

The fact that a religious belief is genuinely held by a candidate or employee is seldom at issue in most religious discrimination lawsuits. With both the EEOC and DFEH directives requiring employers to accommodate an employee who has a sincere religious belief that prevents an employee from receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines, the question of what is a “Sincere religious belief” has become more important in labor law. This is especially true for employers who decide to require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment or a condition of receiving certain employment benefits.

Challenge the sincerity of a religious belief

Let a belief be “sincerely held” is usually a matter of individual credibility. While evidence proving that an employee acted inconsistently with their alleged sincere religious belief is relevant in determining whether the belief is sincere, this evidence is difficult to obtain in most cases and can often be overcome, as the beliefs sincere religious beliefs are not static and often change over time. See, for example, EEOC c. Ilona from Hungary, Inc., 108 F.3d 1569, 1575 (7th Cir. 1997) (en banc) (noting that a Jewish employee proved that her request for permission to observe Yom Kippur was based on sincere religious belief, even though she had not never -year of seniority requested time off for religious practice and admitted that she was generally not a very religious person, but evidence showed that the recent birth of her son and the death of her father reinforced his religious beliefs); EEOC c. IBP, Inc., 824 F. Supp. 147, 151 (CD Ill. 1993) (considering that the lack of faith and the loss of faith of an Adventist employee not prove that his religious beliefs were not sincere when he refused to work on the Sabbath). The law is clear that a sincere believer does not lose his religious rights simply because he is unscrupulous in his observance or has never openly manifested these beliefs in the past.

Sincere religious beliefs do not have to be tenets of a religion to require accommodation

In cases of religious discrimination, employers often believe that the onus is on the employee to prove that sincere religious practice (for example, not getting vaccinated) is an express requirement of the employee’s religion, and in in the absence of proof of such a requirement, no accommodation is necessary. However, the definition of sincere religious belief is not necessarily linked to the expression of religious demands.

Anderson v. USF Logistics (IMC), Inc., 274 F.3d 470, 475 (7th Cir. 2001), is instructive on this point. In that Seventh Circuit case, the Court of Appeal ruled that an employer cannot prevent an employee from using the expression “Have a blessed dayAs a greeting in his work emails, although the use of the phrase was not expressly required by his religion (Christian Methodist Episcopal) and was unique to him.

In the federal circuit covering California, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion in Heller v. EBB Auto Co., 8 F.3d 1433, 1438 (9th Cir. 1993), the court held that the law “protects more than the observance of the Sabbath or practices specifically mandated by an employee’s religion”. The Ninth Circuit explained the rationale for this conclusion:

Limiting the act to those practices which are mandated or prohibited by a principle of religion, would oblige the court to determine not only what are the principles of a particular religion,. . . but would frequently require courts to decide whether or not a particular practice is required by the principles of religion. . . . [S]like a court decision [would] be irreconcilable with the warning issued by the Supreme Court in Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 US 67 (1953) ‘[I]It is not for the courts to say that. . . what is a religious practice or activity. ‘

That being said, at least under California law, the belief must have at least some religious basis to be considered a sincere religious belief that must be considered. See in general Friedman v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, 102 Cal. App. 4th 39 (2002) (considering that employee veganism is not a religious belief).

California case law on religious belief

In Smith v. Fair Employment & Housing Comm., 12 cal. 4th 1143, 1166 (1996), the California Supreme Court considered the definition of “religious” belief under California law. In her pluralist opinion, Associate Judge Kathryn Mickle Werdegar observed that a religious belief is something other than “a philosophy or a way of life.“She further explained that” ‘[R]religious beliefs do not need to be acceptable, logical, consistent, or understandable to others to merit First Amendment protection.‘” In Fellowship of Humanity v. Co. Alameda, 153 Cal. App. 2d 673 (1957), the Court of Appeal held that a religious belief does not necessarily require a connection with a belief in a god or a supreme being, citing Buddhism and other religions.

the Friedman The case is California’s leading case dealing with the definition of religious belief under state law and is quite broad. He reviewed these and other California decisions and concluded that:

  1. The belief in a supreme being does not have to be a religious belief.
  2. It takes something more than a philosophy or a way of life for a belief to be considered a “religious” belief or belief.
  3. Among the factors to be considered is whether belief occupies a parallel plane in a person’s life to that of a supreme being in recognized religions and whether it responds to ultimate concerns, thereby fulfilling a void in the life of the individual.
  4. The California court can and should look to the federal authority on this issue (and the Friedman The decision spent many pages analyzing federal decisions interpreting “religious belief.”

In Freidman, the applicant claimed that as a strict vegan he “Fervently believes that all living things should be valued equally and that it is immoral and unethical for humans to kill and exploit animals, even for food, clothing and testing product safety for humans, and that such use is a violation of natural law. “ Identifier. at 44 years old. This belief system guides the way he lives his life and he maintains that his beliefs are spiritual in nature and set a course for his overall lifestyle. Identifier.

In analyzing whether the complainant’s veganism constituted a sincere religious belief under California law, the Friedman decision ruled that the California definition of religious belief is actually much narrower than that under federal law. The Court of Appeal first ruled that “purely moral or ethical beliefs that are supported by religious beliefs may not be protected” under California law. Identifier. at 67. The Court concluded that California regulations require that “a belief, observance or practice occupy a place in the employee’s life of parallel importance to that of traditionally recognized religions” in order to be a belief religious under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Identifier. In doing so, the Court noted that this “Importance parallel to that of traditionally recognized religions” the requirement is not contained in federal law. Identifier.

To determine if a person’s beliefs are not based on religion and therefore “religious” by that standard, the Friedman decision concluded that three conditions must be met:

  1. A religion addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and intangible subjects.
  2. A religion is of an understanding nature; it consists of a belief system as opposed to isolated teaching.
  3. A religion can often be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs.

Using this standard to assess the veganism of the plaintiff Friedman, the Court of Appeal concluded that:

  1. Claimant’s belief “That all living things should be valued equally and that it is immoral and unethical for humans to kill and exploit animals even for food, clothing and product safety testing for humans “ does not address fundamental or ultimate issues. The court concluded that he is not talking about the meaning of human existence; the purpose of life; theories about the nature of humanity or its place in the universe; questions of human life and death; or the exercise of faith. The court ruled that there was no spiritual or otherworldly component in the plaintiff’s beliefs and that although veganism requires the plaintiff to live according to strict rules of behavior, it reflects a philosophy moral and secular rather than religious.
  2. Second, the Court of Appeal found that although the plaintiff’s belief system governs his behavior in many respects, including the food he eats, the clothes he wears and the products he uses, he is not sufficiently comprehensive in nature to fall under the provisions of by-law 7293.1. The applicant is not claiming that their belief system derives from a power or being or a faith to which everything else is subordinate or on which everything else depends
  3. The Court of Appeal also concluded that “Although not determinant, no formal or external sign of a religion is present. There are no teachers or leaders; services or ceremonies; structure or organization; orders of worship or articles of faith; or public holidays. Identifier. at 70 years old.

Based on these findings, the Court of Appeal concluded that Friedman’s beliefs about veganism, while both very strong and clearly sincere, were not worthy of being greeted as a sincere religious belief or belief, at least under California law. The Court found that “The complainant’s veganism is a personal philosophy, although shared by many others, and a way of life” but was not based on religion and therefore was not protected. The court cautioned against finding that veganism is never protected and suggested that a vegan lifestyle which, unlike Friedman’s, results from a religious belief, may be protected as a sincere religious belief / belief under California law.


Vanderbilt University recently published an excellent and interesting item about all the major religions and their views on vaccinations. The article says that virtually all religions commonly practiced in the United States do not require their followers to avoid vaccination. Thus, it may be tempting for employers to simply (a) review this resource, or a similar resource, (b) ask the employee what religion they adhere to that forms the basis for their refusal to vaccinate, and (c ) then tell the employee that their anti-vaccination views are not “based on religion.However, as this article indicates, the investigation is much more complicated and nuanced than that.

Any employer faced with determining whether or not an employee has sincere religious beliefs that prohibit the employee from getting a COVID-19 vaccine would be wise to seek legal advice from an experienced labor lawyer who is familiar with this area of ​​the law. . .