Shane Vaughn, the Pentecostal pastor of First Harvest Ministries in Waveland, Mississippi, has helped spearhead an online movement promoting personal faith as a way around workplace Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
He posts form letters for US workers seeking religious exemptions that have been downloaded from his website around 40,000 times, according to a screen shot of web traffic he shared with Reuters.
"This is the only way out," said Vaughn, 48, of the letters, which he makes available for free, that mix Biblical scripture with warnings to employers of legal fallout if they are disregarded.
As the Biden administration prepares a federal vaccine mandate and more states and companies impose them to help accelerate the pandemic's end, letter-writing efforts by religious leaders are being reinforced by legal advocacy groups such as Liberty Counsel.
The organisation said it has sent more than 100 letters to companies including United Airlines Holdings Inc and Tyson Foods Inc vowing litigation if they improperly reject religious exemption requests.
United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said the airline received the letter but it had no impact on the company's actions. Tyson did not comment on the letter.
United said about 2,000 of its 67,000 U.S. employees have requested religious or medical exemptions. Tyson said only a "small percentage" of its more than 100,000 employees had requested religious or medical accommodations ahead of its 1st November deadline.
US employers are required by law to make reasonable job changes to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, although they can seek information to determine if the beliefs are religious in nature and "sincerely held."
Many employers want regulators to provide guidance for scrutinising exemption requests to help protect them from lawsuits alleging they were wrongly denied, said Roger King, of the HR Policy Association, a forum for large companies.
"Religious exemption requests have over years been much more rare and now we're dealing with them on a mass basis," said Kimberly Harding, an employment lawyer at Nixon Peabody, which advises companies.
Temple University Health System in Philadelphia, which employs 10,700 people, has already received 180 religious exemption requests, a significant increase from what it usually gets for its annual flu shot requirement, said John Lasky, the system's chief human resources officer.
Some of the exemption request forms included letter attachments that used similar phrasing, which Lasky said might indicate coaching, although he said they were not a determining factor in whether a request was granted.