The federal government has filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s Ozaukee County after a nursing home run by the county forced one of its employees to get a flu shot against her will. The Justice Department says this amounts to religious discrimination.
Barnell Williams belongs to a Christian sect that doesn’t approve of putting “foreign substances” into her body. When her employer told her she would be fired if she didn’t get the shot, she reluctantly gave in — complaining later about the sleeping problems, anxiety, and fear of eternal damnation that resulted from the vaccine.
The nursing home, located in Cedarsburg, Wis., did allow their employees to be exempt from an annual flu shot on the basis of religion. But it required employees to submit a “written statement from their clergy leader supporting the exception with a clear reason and explanation,” according to the lawsuit. Those who were exempt would wear protective face masks during flu season.
Williams at the time did not belong to a specific church or organized religion and therefore couldn’t get a clergy leader to write her an exemption before the nursing home’s deadline. She explained her situation to the nursing home’s administrator at the time, who did not offer Williams an alternative way of verifying her religious beliefs, according to the lawsuit.The lawsuit alleges that the administrator told Williams that if she did not get vaccinated, “Consider this your last day.”
The argument, then, is that there was a religious exemption… but it didn’t apply to Williams since she wasn’t part of an organized church at the time and couldn’t meet the requirements.
Even if you set aside the public safety issue, I wonder how the nursing home would have handled non-religious people who had personal reasons for not wanting the vaccine. Would administrators have said no to that request, too?
As tempting as it is to tell this nurse to find another line of work if her religion prevents her from doing what’s best for patients, the nursing home already allowed other people to not get the vaccine and made accommodations for those who refused it.
The only question is whether their rules were applied to everyone equally.
That said, the nursing home is certainly obligated to prioritize the safety of its patients over Williams’ refusal to accept the scientific consensus about the benefits of the flu shot, something she ought to recognize since she’s a healthcare provider. By that logic, it’s curious that anyone should be allowed to avoid the shot for non-medical reasons.
(Image via Shutterstock)