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Lankford, Colleagues Work to Protect Privacy of Americans Filing Religious Accommodations from COVID Vaccine

WASHINGTON, DC — Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) along with eight of their colleagues introduced the Prohibiting Religious Exemption and Accommodations Databases Act, legislation to prohibit federal agencies from sharing, disclosing, or disseminating information concerning a religious accommodation request by a federal employee beyond the minimum necessary to process the request. The legislation comes on the heels of numerous federal agencies creating registries of Americans’ religious exemption requests as they relate to President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Joining Lankford and Marshall to introduce the bill are Senators Mike Braun (R-IN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

“People of faith live their faith every day, at home, at work and in our houses of worship. No one, including federal employees, should have to check their religious liberty or right to personal privacy at the door when they go to work,” said Lankford. “Creating a federal database of religious beliefs for federal employees with no guardrails allows supervisors to intimidate people away from living their faith, rather than encouraging the free exercise of faith. Our bill stands firmly against this Big Brother proposal and prevents information on religious accommodation requests from being improperly shared.” 

“As a nation founded on religious freedom, citizens should be confident in their government’s handling of information related to their religious beliefs and how they apply to their personal medical decisions,” said Marshall. “Instead, we have an administration that has pursued a coercive federal approach to mandatory vaccination, including fear of retribution for exercising this religious freedom. I’m proud to lead on legislation to ensure federal agencies are not exchanging and tracking Americans’ private information following the request of a religious accommodation or exemption, opening up the door for instances of discrimination based on individuals’ beliefs in the future.”

“Religious freedom is one of the great cornerstones of our country, and there shouldn’t be a need for legislation to rein in a White House administration that is too eager to register and track federal employees who request religious exemptions. Unfortunately, we do need legislation to keep the Biden administration from implementing this blatant big-government infringement on individual rights,” said Hyde-Smith.

“It is completely out of line for the Biden Administration to catalog personal information about people’s religious beliefs,” said Rubio. “This bill will prevent the government from tracking private medical decisions of Americans who request a religious accommodation or exemption from a vaccine mandate.”

“The Biden administration has taken the alarming step to track the religious beliefs of federal employees and strike fear in Americans who object to unconstitutional vaccine mandates. The Constitution guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion, and Americans don’t give up those rights just because they’re employed by the federal government. I’m happy to co-sponsor this bill to stop President Biden from tracking the religious beliefs of federal employees, and I hope all my colleagues who want to protect the 1st Amendment join us and support this bill,” said Rick Scott.

“Much like vaccine mandates are unconstitutional and wrong, creating and sharing lists of COVID vaccine religious exemption requests is against our basic rights,” Inhofe said. “It is baffling to me that a number of agencies under the Biden administration are creating registries of Americans’ religious exemption requests and potentially disclosing that information to other agencies or private organizations. That’s why I am joining Sen. Marshall in introducing legislation to protect Americans’ religious accommodations from being tracked and shared by the government. Religious liberty is still a foundational American value, even if the Biden administration continues to overlook this fact,” said Inhofe. 

“The Constitution is clear—Montanans have the right to freedom of religion. The federal government should not be tracking, storing and sharing Montanans’ religious exemption requests for anything, especially for Biden’s overreaching vaccine mandates. We must fight back against this egregious power grab,” said Daines.

“The collection, documentation, and retention of information about an employee’s religious beliefs for dissemination around the government is blatant infringement of privacy. I’m proud to join Sen. Marshall to put a stop to this Biden Administration action that strikes to the core of First Amendment principles and discourages individuals from exercising their sincerely held beliefs out of fear of retribution or prejudicial action,” said Braun.

“I opposed the creation of databases to track Americans who have sought accommodations for their religious beliefs. They now have troubling implications for our First Amendment rights,” said Wicker. “It is vital Congress use its oversight abilities to ensure the federal government does not abuse its power or enable Americans to be targeted for exercising their rights to religious freedom.”

Background:  

At least 19 federal agencies – including five cabinet-level agencies – have created or proposed on the Federal Register to create lists of religious requests from their employees. The list includes the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Transportation, to name a few. 

The agencies plan to collect religious affiliation, the reasons and support given for religious accommodation requests, names, contact information, date of birth, aliases, home address, contact information, and other identifying information. These lists will be shared between federal agencies.

The notices do not explain how long they plan on storing this data, why they need to share it between agencies, or why they need to keep it beyond the decision to grant or deny an employee’s religious accommodation request.

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