Catholic hospital system illegally refusing COVID shot exemptions, lawyers allege

Mercy is one of the five largest Catholic health systems in the United States, with more than 40 hospitals and 40,000 employees across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

(Image: Braňo/

More than a dozen workers at a Missouri-based health-care system have been illegally subjected to repeated interrogation about their religious beliefs, threats from supervisors and for some, firing for refusing to take a COVID-19 gene-serum shot, according to the civil-rights law firm Liberty Counsel.

In a letter sent to top brass at Catholic-run Mercy, Liberty Counsel said its growing list of clients has been given a litmus test for religious beliefs when requesting a religious exemption from the hospital chain’s COVID-19 shot mandate. Such treatment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and runs afoul of numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the law firm said. 

“In general, when Mercy has received religious accommodation requests, it has insisted on ‘more information’ and ‘more explanation’ of the employee’s religious beliefs, regardless of the fact that the employee’s original religious exemption provided ample explanation,” wrote Liberty attorney Richard L. Mast. “In short, in many instances, Mercy has demanded ever more ‘explanation,’ with nothing being sufficient to satisfy Mercy’s ‘review committee.’ ”

The letter lists 14 Mercy employees who were slated for suspension at close of business Sept. 30, followed by job termination. In its processing of requests for religious exemptions to the shot mandate, Liberty alleges, Mercy sought to “manufacture pretexts for denying religious exemptions.” The 14 employees were denied religious exemptions “without explanation or ability to appeal,” Liberty Counsel said in a news release.

“In its responses, Mercy appears to be attempting to ‘expose’ claimed inconsistencies between its employees’ currently expressed beliefs and their prior medical decisions and between their expressed beliefs and the beliefs of other religious persons,” the letter said. “…Mercy has no legal authority to dictate what employee’s religion is or ought to be, or to be the arbiter of the validity or reasonableness of any employee’s religious beliefs. Nor does Mercy have the authority to demand that a third party validate an employee’s religious beliefs. An employee’s religious beliefs need only be sincere to merit legal protection and require Mercy’s accommodation.”

Mercy announced July 7 that it would require all employees receive the COVID shot, effective Sept. 30. Mercy is one of the five largest Catholic health systems in the United States, with more than 40 hospitals and 40,000 employees across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. It ranks 16th nationally among the largest health systems, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. Mercy was founded in 1986, although it traces its history to 1827 Ireland with Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy.

Liberty Counsel said it is not the role of an employer to judge an employee’s religious belief, lack of religious belief or fidelity of belief to accepted tenets of any religion. “Mercy is not permitted to determine which religious adherent has a ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ or ‘valid’ understanding of religious doctrine,” Mast wrote, “or whether any employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs are shared broadly among other faithful. As the Supreme Court has recognized, employees’ ‘religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit protection.’ ”

Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, said the Mercy employees it represents are opposed to receiving COVID shots due to their use of and connection to cell lines that were derived from aborted children. All believe “that life is sacred from the moment of conception and abortion is the murder of an innocent human in violation of Scripture,” Staver said. Liberty is demanding the 14 employees be granted religious exemption to the shots or there will be litigation.

A report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute said of the mRNA COVID vaccines developed under emergency authorization in the United States, those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna used cell lines derived from abortions in some of the confirmatory lab testing. United States bishops have said those shots are morally permissible because of the remoteness of material cooperation in the evil of abortion. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca used abortion-derived cell lines in their vaccine development and/or production, something much more morally problematic.

“Since the first COVID shot became available in December 2020, Mercy Hospital has not mandated the shots,” Staver said. “The Delta variant has been known for months. Nothing has changed, except an arbitrary policy of certain hospital administrators. The past is prologue. For months, Mercy Hospital has demonstrated that it can and must make reasonable accommodation for these health care heroes.”

Mercy declined to address the specifics in the letter from Liberty Counsel. Bethany Pope, media relations manager, said employees were given a three-month window to get the required vaccination. “As with all other required vaccines at Mercy, we have co-workers with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” Pope said. “Mercy’s human resources team carefully reviewed each co-worker’s request for an exemption following the same process used for previously required vaccines. Mercy has granted some exemptions for legitimate medical and religious reasons.”

The Liberty legal demand letter is part of a growing backlash against mandates by health care and other employers that insist their workers receive COVID shots or face suspension and termination. A federal judge in Utica, N.Y. issued a temporary restraining order against the State of New York and its compulsory vaccine policy for health care workers. Another federal judge in Covington, Ky., upheld the COVID shot mandate of St. Elizabeth Healthcare for its 10,000 workers. The New York policy does not allow religious exemptions, while the Kentucky policy does. Lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates have been filed in at least 16 states by police, firefighters, doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Legal observers say the issue will ultimately land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many employers have instituted vaccine mandates based on the intention of the Biden Administration to force employers covering some 100 million Americans to mandate COVID-19 shots. The federal government also plans to force government employees, contractors and military personnel to take the shot.

Liberty Counsel said it represents an Air Force reservist who has served 29 years and is scheduled to retire from military service on Dec. 1. Under a Department of Defense (DOD) order, he must still get the COVID shot or face a dishonorable discharge. When the airman showed up for his final training weekend in September, he was “berated and bullied by the base commander to get the shot,” Liberty Counsel said in a news release.

“If my December 1, 2021 retirement is granted, I should not be required to accept the vaccine just to retire or be placed on an administrative hold just to forfeit my service and be punished for not accepting the vaccine,” said the airman, who is not named in the document. The reservist and other military personnel told Liberty Counsel they are not able to request religious exemptions from the federal shot orders. Refusing religious exemptions violates military law, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Liberty Counsel said. 

The military shot mandate was issued in August, despite emerging evidence that the mRNA shot can cause serious and even fatal side effects in young adults, such as myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Liberty cited a June 29 Defense Health Agency report that said some previously healthy service members developed myocarditis/pericarditis within an average of four days of receiving the first shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna inoculations. 

According to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), there have been 6,812 reports of myocarditis/pericarditis among COVID shot recipients. That includes nearly 2,800 cases among those ages 6-39. That compares with 105 myocarditis cases from all types of flu vaccines over the past 20 years, according to an analysis by OpenVAERS. Federal data show 15,836 deaths related to the COVID shots since December 2020. Reported side effects have included miscarriages, birth defects, anaphylaxis, heart attack, stroke, shingles, Bell’s palsy, permanent disability and thrombocytopenia. A total of nearly 727,000 adverse reactions have been logged among recipients of the COVID shots through Sept. 17.

“Despite the known dangers these shots are to male service members, the Biden DOD has mandated every person should be injected,” Liberty Counsel said in a news release. “No matter their term of service, rank, honors or tours of duty in the most dangerous places in the world, service members are being threatened with dishonorable discharge for merely requesting a religious exemption. Some have even been told they will be imprisoned and held in solitary confinement if they refuse the shot.”

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About Joseph M. Hanneman 101 Articles
Joseph M. Hanneman writes from Madison, Wisconsin.


  1. I think the bishops did all of us a disservice by 1) not demanding a morally acceptable vaccine from the beginning, and 2) judging the “remoteness” of the connection to abortion and fetal cell research of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, thus encouraging the practice of relativism, which they have warned us to guard against. The Colorado bishops allow priests to sign letters of religious exemption from the vaccines for people who don’t want to support immoral research, development, production or testing. It is interesting that anyone, including the bishops, believe that a third person can attest to the religious conscience of another. Only the one whose conscience says “no” and God can do that. I have an exemption signed by my archbishop only because it may carry some weight with those who don’t understand the concept of religious exemption.

    • Good points. Had there been consistent and unwavering pressure to produce products that did not rely on fetal cell lines we might be in a different circumstance. And I think “remoteness” doesn’t being and end with one abortion. It also involves cooperating with an enterprise which knowingly collaborates with the abortion industry and which depends upon it for the material necessary to make its products.

  2. I’ve heard one report that the Catholic healthcare system CommonSpirit (Formerly Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West) has been squelching religious exemptions as well.

    With that said, I’m not certain of the extent of the abuse or even if the hospital chain is Catholic enough for a local bishop to have jurisdiction under Canon Law.

  3. Once a Catholic hospital becomes a “system,” apparently the Faith goes out the door. I noticed at a local hospital where I was in the ER for an injury, there were still crucifixes on the walls. When I returned a year and a half later, they were gone. No matter how you may feel about Church Militant in Detroit, they did make a series of calls made by female employees and found that these Catholic health care systems were distributing contraceptives. Recall Sr. Simone Campbell, the million dollar a year Catholic health care system CEO who was at the signing of Obamacare and received a signing pen personally from the president. The current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter only disciplines the faithful. EWTN used to broadcast the Sr. Anne episodes of the old Loretta Young Show. I’m sure there are Catholics of the self-created kind who laugh at that sort of sacrifice and devotion to others. As it happens, the Faith was a frequent theme and running background to many episodes. I currently live in Mishawaka in the South Bend/Notre Dame orbit. Perusing their website one day I was reminded that the university is not only troubling for the faithful, it is midtown Manhattan decadent. They seem unaware of how far they have drifted to the point of an unrecognizable transformation. It’s everywhere in the Church. Of course the Franciscan papacy had to smack down the devout and bench the Latin Mass. The contrast was too dramatic, too challenging, too Catholic.

    • I’m in total agreement. They seem to forget why and what they’re here for. If they want to call themselves Catholic, then act accordingly.

    • Totally agree!!! I live in South Bend and Norte Dame hardly lives up to there Catholic roots. Many of the Catholic Churches and schools are following suit. My sister actually just got denied her Catholic religious exemption and fired from St. Joe hospital which is supposed to be a Catholic hospital!! This is absolute lunacy!

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