- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2022

More than 40 House Republicans are calling on President Biden to direct his administration to stop tracking federal employees who applied for religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Your administration cannot use the power of the federal government to track the applications of federal employees who have applied for a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. From day one, your administration has displayed a consistent attitude of contempt towards Americans who prioritize faith in their lives,” the lawmakers said in a letter Monday to Mr. Biden.

“Your administration’s attempt to use the power of the federal government to single out Americans who object to the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds is inexcusable and must be withdrawn,” the Republicans wrote.

They warned Mr. Biden that targeting federal employees who have applied for a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate “will have an immediate chilling effect on an employee’s exercise of his constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion.”

The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, was sent two weeks after the Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) for the District of Columbia issued a notice in the Federal Register that it would establish a new records system to track federal employees’ “personal religious information.”

According to the Federal Register, the PSA issued a Jan. 11 public notice of its intent to create the “Employee Religious Exception Request Information System.”

The system is a database that would maintain personal religious information collected in response to accommodation requests from the federal vaccination mandate. It will assist the PSA in collecting, storing, disseminating and disposing of employee religious exemption request information.

At least 19 federal agencies, including five Cabinet-level agencies, reportedly have proposed creating similar databases. The number of religious exemptions filed spans from double digits at the Department of Education to thousands at the Bureau of Prisons.

The House Republicans wrote that the PSA did not “provide a justified rationale for why such an invasive database was needed for the agency to properly operate” and does “nothing to describe why the Pretrial Services Agency needs to maintain a list of the personal religious beliefs of its employees.”

The lawmakers also noted the PSA did not explain how long it plans to store the records, why it needs to share the data between federal agencies, or why it needs to keep the data beyond a decision to grant or deny an employee’s religious accommodation request.

“Your administration has offered no valid justification for these intrusive databases that will only be used to target Americans who have refused a COVID-19 vaccine because of their religious convictions,” they wrote before asking for a response about their concerns by Feb. 11.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, a federal judge in Texas halted enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees.

The administration on Monday issued a notice to all federal workers that it would pause enforcement of the mandate as it appealed the injunction.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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