Applications for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine requirements are on the rise.

The request for a religious exemption is provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to NPR, the law “protects workers from discrimination on the basis of religion, among other things,” and reasonable accommodations must be provided for anyone demonstrating a sincerely held religious belief.

Recently, Washington State fired its head football coach, Nick Rolovich, after he declined the vaccine, claiming a religious exemption. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, set a deadline this week for thousands of state employees, which included coaches employed by the state.

Private companies are also requiring the vaccine, with some employees seeking a religious exemption to avoid the vaccine. Companies like Google, CVS, Amtrak, United Airlines, Cisco, Citigroup, Ford and FoxNews issued vaccine mandates for their employees.

Boston attorney Andrew Beckworth noted the increase in inquiries for religious exemptions. However, there is a lot of confusion around employees requesting, and companies providing, religious exemptions.

The confusion centers on the definition of a “sincerely held religious belief.” While many people assuredly hold “sincerely held religious beliefs” when it comes to medical treatment, it seems that most of the requests regarding the COVID-19 vaccine fall short of the requirement.

With a responsibility for the well-being of all their employees, employers have the right to inquire about the person’s exemption request. For example, they can ask if they have been vaccinated prior to COVID-19. If so, why was that particular vaccine religiously acceptable and not this one? What is the theological justification for the request?

If the employer determines the request is not a “sincerely held belief,” then they may terminate the employee for noncompliance.

Following these most recent events, I have found myself thinking more and more about the relationship between faith and science. While I understand the skepticism each has for the other, I am absolutely confounded by the false dichotomy that we must choose one over the other.

Francis Collins is a Christian who serves as the director of the National Institutes of Health. He raised several important questions in his book, The Language of God.

“Will we turn our backs on science because it is perceived as a threat to God, abandoning all the promise of advancing our understanding of nature and applying that to the alleviation of suffering and the betterment of humankind?” he asked. “Alternatively, will we turn our backs on faith, concluding that science has rendered the spiritual life no longer necessary and that traditional religious symbols can now be replaced by engravings of the double helix on our altars?”

“Both of these choices are profoundly dangerous. Both deny the truth. Both will diminish the nobility of humankind. Both will be devastating to our future. And both are unnecessary,” Collins said. “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate and beautiful – and it cannot be at war with itself. Only we imperfect humans can start such battles. And only we can end them.”

Faith and science should live harmoniously together. This false dichotomy that we must choose one over the other dishonors both. There is enough room in the world, and in a person’s life, to pursue the truths of both faith and science.

The author of Proverbs suggested long ago, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).

For those taking both faith and science seriously, they are wise words to heed. So, let’s embrace a faith that seeks understanding, including the insights offered by scientific inquiry.

Curiosity, questions and analysis are important facets in the pursuit of a stronger faith.

Science has never caused me to doubt the existence of God or the divine relationship with creation. On the contrary, science has allowed me to explore the depths of a created universe. It has opened up the universe in all its complexities and beauty.

For me, faith and science can live harmoniously together, as long as both are respected and empowered to fulfill their objectives.

If you don’t believe me, consider Job 12:7-10, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In the Lord’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind.”

Sounds like an endorsement for faith and science to me!

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