But these cell lines also have been used to develop dozens of other pharmaceuticals, and at least one company is asking its exemption seekers if they also used any of those products. On its "religious exemption attestation" form, the Conway Regional Health System in Arkansas lists 21 of those drugs, including Tylenol, Tums and Ex-Lax, and asks applicants whether they've used them as a test of consistency.
"That shows the difficulty in testing sincerity," Berg said.
Americans are divided over whether individuals should get COVID vaccine exemptions. A survey by the Washington D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute earlier this year, found 52% supported offering religious exemptions and 46% opposed it.
Lincoln is among those who support it, but she is concerned that some religious exemptions are based more on political ideology than faith. The public health threat of COVID-19 cannot be underestimated, she said.
"Someone's belief is not more important than protecting an entire unit of a nursing home," said Lincoln, referring to health care worker exemption requests.
Requests for exemptions are expected to increase, as more employers impose vaccine mandates and anti-vaccine groups step up their organizing efforts. The exemptions will continue to be a difficult issue for individuals, employers and courts.
"I see more litigation around the country," Berg said. "I see courts going in different directions, depending on the details of the mandate and on the court's own attitude. I'm generally a strong supporter of religious objections ... but this is a tough issue."
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