The state of Washington has updated its guidelines surrounding vaccine mandates to clarify how religious exemptions may be interpreted.
Last week, the Washington superintendents mandated that all teachers and school staff be vaccinated. However, that initial filing made it unclear how religious exemptions may play into the mandate. So the state's educational leaders partnered with the Washington State Attorney General's Office to create a set of guidelines for handling religious exemptions.
The four-page document states that "Federal guidance on religious accommodation encourages employers to presume that an employee's request for religious accommodation is based on a sincere belief in a religion, unless the employer has a valid, objective reason to question the employee. The employer should review the request on its own merits, initiate discussion with the employee about possible accommodation, and assess whether accommodation is possible."
According to federal law, religious beliefs include larger organizations like Christianity and Judaism alongside beliefs that may be uncommon, new, individualistic, or isolated to a select few. The law also allows for individuals to accommodate moral or ethical beliefs which believers could hold in the context of traditional religious views.
While schools are required to accommodate such convictions, they are allowed to question the reason for said belief.
This vaccine mandate only applies to teachers and will not include students.
According to the Spokesman-Review, 363,000 employees will be affected by this new mandate. Current estimates predict that the majority of members are vaccinated. One official estimated that, out of 155,000 teachers in the system, only 100,000 are vaccinated. That leaves 50,000 educators unvaccinated or uncertain.