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Tag: vaccine mandates

'Like Throwing Your Life Away': Greene's Latest Rant Insults US Troops

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) recently delivered an offensive blow targeting the United States armed services. The far-right Republican lawmaker made the remarks during her April 9 appearance on former Fox News host Lou Dobbs' podcast.

According to Newsweek, Dobbs raised questions and concerns about the "quality of people" leading the U.S. Department of Defense under the Biden administration.

In response to his remarks, Greene named a number of reasons why Americans should not enlist in the military under President Joe Biden's policies. She also suggested that the military's challenges in gaining the interest of potential recruits are due to people seeing "the way they're treated."

In the wake of the pandemic, the military has acknowledged its struggle to recruit new members. In fact, the U.S Armed Forces did admit that it did not meet its new recruitment goal for 2021.

However, Dobbs raised another question about recruitment asking why would individuals be interested in enlisting now with "boots on the ground" as approximately 100,000 U.S. service members are now overseas in Europe. Without evidence, Dobbs also believes potential recruits might be deterred from enlisting following Biden's withdrawal of troops that were stationed in Afghanistan.

"Can you imagine explaining to a recruit, you're gonna be just fine, just like those Marines in Kabul," Dobbs said of the 13 armed forces members who died at Afghanistan's capital airport during the withdrawal back in August of last year.

"We may not have time to come back and get you. But you know, it'll work out all right [...] We're going to fight a third world country for two decades and walk out with our tail between our legs," Dobbs added. "Who in his or her right mind would say 'sign me up for that, Sarge?'"

Greene responded, "Not my son, and I know a lot of young people don't want to have anything to do with that. It's like throwing your life away.

"Not to mention how they've been forced to take the vaccine and the ones that didn't want to take it have been discharged. Who wants to be treated that way?"

Greene went on to offer a flawed assessment of the "rules of engagement" insisting people "are 'shot at, killed and maimed' before they're allowed to fire back and defend themselves."

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Disappointing Turnout And Hateful Rhetoric At Anti-Vax March On Washington

Washington (AFP) - Waving signs denouncing President Joe Biden and calling for "freedom," several thousand people demonstrated in Washington Sunday against what some described as the "tyranny" of Covid-19 vaccine mandates in the United States. It was a much smaller turnout than the 20,000 marchers expected by the event organizers.

Speaker after speaker -- including notorious anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust -- took to the microphone in front of the white marble Lincoln Memorial to decry the rules.

Like other Covid restrictions aimed at reining in a disease that has infected more than 70 million people in the United States, killed more than 865,000 and brought much of daily life around the globe to a stuttering halt for two years and counting, vaccine mandates have become a deeply polarizing political issue.

"Mandates and freedoms don't mix, like oil and water," another speaker said.

"Breathe. Inhale God, exhale fear," exhorted yet another to applause from the crowd, made up of people of all ages, including children, and largely unmasked.

"I'm not anti-vaccine, but I'm anti this vaccine," Michelle, a 61-year-old physical therapist from Virginia who declined to give her last name, told AFP.

She said the messenger RNA serums developed by companies such as Pfizer and Moderna in record time were "too experimental" and "rushed."

The mRNA vaccines, given to millions of people around the world in the past year, have been proven safe and effective, as well as being hailed as potential gamechangers in modern medicine.

Michelle, who paused in the interview to sing the national anthem with other demonstrators, said she has a religious exemption from taking the vaccine -- but that to continue coming to work in Washington she has to get tested every week.

To her regret, her son, who initially had also resisted taking the vaccine, has now relented.

"He went and got it without me knowing -- so much peer pressure," she said.

'My Body, My Choice'

Another demonstrator, Therese is adamantly opposed to vaccines -- all vaccines.

She explained that she came by bus from Michigan, in the north of the country, to protest.

"Mandates are not appropriate... vaccines aren't working, we've been lied to about the vaccines," said the 61-year-old, who worked in a school cafeteria before her retirement and also refused to give her last name.

"And we should not be masking our children," she added.

"I talked to a couple of psychologists who say our children are suffering and they're depressed... It's terrible. We need our freedom back."

Further up the steps, the speakers -- including some people in white coats, presented as doctors from Texas -- continue to come and go.

"We are Americans and that's what we do, we fight tyranny!" claims another.

A few joggers, as if lost, walk through the crowd amid the signs proclaiming slogans such as "My body, my choice" or "God is our rock that will take down Goliath."

There are also many anti-Biden posters and a few flags bearing the name of his predecessor Donald Trump -- under whom the vaccines were developed and who has taken credit for them.

Isaac Six, 34, shrugged off the difficulty of being unvaccinated while in Washington, where proof of vaccination is now required to go to restaurants and other public places.

"It's OK, we're saving money," the 34-year-old charity worker said with a laugh.

Vaccines in general "are wonderful, they have helped millions of people," he added.

But mandating these vaccines, which like all vaccines are not 100 percent effective at preventing transmission, is "completely irrational," he argued.

What worries him are policies adopted "out of fear and panic" and "by one person."

"I would like to see more of the legislative process involved, the people that we elected to represent us be the ones to actually pass legislation," he said.

Right-Wing Justices Prepping To Kill Biden's Vaccine Rules Amid Surging Omicron

Amid expert warnings about the dire implications for public health and democracy, right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday appeared poised to strike down the Biden administration's contested federal vaccination requirements even as the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country.

Oral arguments in the two sets of cases before the high court came amid a tidal wave of infections driven by the ultra-contagious Omicron variant, which has resulted in tens of thousands of hospitalizations nationwide. Each day, an average of 1,400 individuals in the U.S. are suffering largely preventable deaths from Covid-19.

As cases rise "exponentially across the nation, pushing the hospital system beyond its capacity," justices must "weigh this grim reality," Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, and two co-authors wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published last week.

"The Supreme Court needs to uphold" President Joe Biden's Covid-19 vaccine policies "without delay," wrote Gostin and his colleagues. "Not doing so would be an affront to public health and the law."

But the high court's right-wing majority on Friday signaled that they are likely to rule against Biden's vaccination requirements, the New York Times reported.

"More absolutely unhinged behavior from the Supreme Court's conservative wing, which seems ready to strike down a perfectly lawful vaccine mandate while we're still in the middle of a deadly pandemic," tweeted Indivisible, a progressive advocacy group. "They are irredeemable. We need to expand the court now."

Justice Elena Kagan, one of three liberal justices, defended the Biden administration's vaccine rules, arguing that they are necessary to mitigate the ongoing public health crisis.

"This is a pandemic in which nearly a million people have died," said Kagan. "This is the policy that is most geared to stop all this... Why isn't this necessary and grave?"

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, added: "Why shouldn't the federal government—which has already decided to give OSHA the power to regulate workplace safety—have a national rule that will protect workers?"

According to Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent at Vox and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, "These cases ask what steps the United States can realistically take to quell the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 820,000 Americans. But the full stakes in these cases are even higher."Millhiser wrote earlier this week:

Someone has to decide how the United States will respond to a global pandemic, and the Biden administration's argument essentially boils down to a case for democracy. An elected Congress authorized the executive branch to take certain steps to encourage vaccination, and Joe Biden was elected to lead that branch. So that means that President Biden and his duly appointed subordinates get to make difficult decisions, even if some Americans don't like those decisions.
The parties challenging Biden's policies, meanwhile, effectively argue that the Supreme Court should decide America's vaccination policy. They couch their arguments in arcane legal doctrines, with weighty-sounding names like the "Major Questions Doctrine" or "nondelegation," But these doctrines are vague—so vague that they are easily manipulated by justices who disagree with the Biden administration's policies and wish to conceal their desire to halt those policies behind a patina of legal reasoning.

In an effort to improve safety in the workplace—a major source of viral transmission—the Biden administration in November imposed three Covid-19 rules affecting roughly 100 million people.

The move to encourage uptake of lifesaving shots—supported by a majority of adults but fiercely opposed by disinformation-soaked GOP voters—was immediately met by a tsunami of legal challenges from business groups and Republican-led states.Within days, right-wing judges, some of whom were appointed by former President Donald Trump, suspended their implementation.

"The cases before the court Friday are technically emergency applications for immediate—but temporary—relief, not final judgements on the merits of the mandates, which are still being litigated in lower courts," ABC News reported. "A decision from the justices is expected in days or weeks, rather than months, given the expedited nature of the case and the ongoing public health emergency."

The first rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), states that all employers with 100 or more employees must require workers to be fully inoculated or be tested weekly and wear masks on the job.

In the first case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, the Supreme Court will consider the legality of this vaccine-or-test mandate for big companies.

SCOTUS Blog reported Thursday:

Several challenges were filed around the country and eventually consolidated in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which reinstated the mandate after another court had put it on hold. The challengers quickly came to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to freeze the 6th Circuit's ruling. In a brief order on Dec. 22, the justices set two of those requests for oral argument on Jan. 7 but left the 6th Circuit's ruling reviving the mandate in place.

A second Biden administration rule, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), requires all healthcare workers at facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs to be fully inoculated unless a medical or religious exemption is obtained.

In the second case being heard by the Supreme Court, Biden v. Missouri, justices will consider the legality of this vaccine mandate for staff at medical facilities reliant on federal funding.

SCOTUS Blog reported:

A federal district court in Missouri put the rule on hold for 10 states, while a federal district court in Louisiana did the same for 14 other states. That prompted the Biden administration to come to the Supreme Court in December, asking the justices to put the district courts' rulings on hold and allow the rule to take effect nationwide while litigation continues.

A third rule, the president's executive order requiring federal contractors to have a fully vaccinated workforce, is currently blocked by courts in Kentucky and Georgia but has not yet reached the high court.

According to Gostin and his colleagues, "Lower-court rulings that blocked the rules from taking effect were fundamentally flawed... They disregarded the broad scientific consensus that Covid-19 poses a major public health threat requiring a strong emergency response; indeed, the public health emergency has only become more acute in recent weeks."

They continued:

A threshold issue is whether Covid-19 is a public health emergency that warrants bypassing the usual cumbersome regulatory process. For the employer mandate, OSHA issued an emergency standard which can be implemented rapidly. For the rule involving healthcare workers, CMS waived the normal period for taking public comment into consideration before issuing final regulations, a process that can take months if not years. Both had good reason for acting swiftly.
OSHA conservatively estimated its new rule would prevent more than 6,500 deaths and 250,000 hospitalizations. CMS established an impressive record showing the unique vulnerability of Medicare and Medicaid recipients, who are older, disabled, chronically ill, or have complex healthcare needs. The rule can save hundreds of lives each month. The science is also clear that the vaccine is the best way to ameliorate risks of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Delaying the implementation of the rules would cost lives.

A core argument made by plaintiffs in these cases is that OSHA and CMS didn't receive congressional authorization to protect workers, but Gostin and his two co-authors explained why "that's incorrect":

The Occupational Safety and Health Act empowers OSHA to mitigate "grave" workplace dangers through emergency measures. OSHA has required the only effective tools known to science: vaccines, testing, and masks. Vaccination is the best tool, but OSHA allows employees to opt-out simply by testing weekly and masking. It's hardly an overreach. In fact, regulating biological hazards is among OSHA's primary responsibilities. The agency has a long history of regulating protections against airborne and bloodborne pathogens.
Likewise, when Congress established the Medicare and Medicaid programs, it granted the secretary of health and human services authority to require facilities to meet requirements deemed "necessary in the interest of the health and safety." There are ample reasons to support the conclusion that vaccinations are necessary for the safe operation of participating facilities: the vulnerability of residents, the need for a healthy workforce, and the unique effectiveness of vaccines.

"There are good reasons Congress has chosen to delegate broad regulatory powers to agencies," the trio argued.

Unlike career agency professionals—who have the expertise and the ability to respond "more quickly [and] with more flexibility... than the legislative process allows"—lawmakers, who "cannot foresee the broad range of risks Americans will face," are ill-positioned to act on "rapidly changing and complex scientific information needed to make wise regulatory decisions," they wrote.

"The need to act rapidly is especially important in a health emergency," they added. "If the high court were to curb federal public health powers now, it could prove ruinous when the next crisis strikes."

On top of the potential epidemiological consequences associated with the impending decision, Millhiser argued in Vox that democracy itself is at stake in the Supreme Court's vaccine cases.

"The premise of any democratic republic is that there are some decisions that must be made collectively, and that these decisions are legitimate because they are made by elected officials," wrote Millhiser.

"The justices' commitment to the idea that the right to govern flows from the will of the people" will be tested when the Supreme Court hears Biden v. Missouri and National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, he continued.

U.S. vaccination policy, noted Millhiser, "will either be made by the man chosen by the American people, or the Supreme Court will wrest that decision away from him and give it to themselves."

"This is not democracy," Millhiser argued. "It is a decision to replace the judgment of men and women elected to make life-and-death decisions with the views of a few unelected lawyers."

Kagan concurred. "Who decides?" she asked Friday. "Should it be the agency full of expert policymakers, politically accountable to the president?... Or courts can decide."

"Courts are not politically accountable," said Kagan. "Courts have no epidemiological expertise. Why in the world would courts decide this question?"

Article reprinted with permission from Alternet

No Jab, No Job: Citigroup No Longer Coddling The Unvaccinated

By David Henry, Noor Zainab Hussain and Anirban Sen

(Reuters) - Citigroup Inc staff in the United States who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 14 will be placed on unpaid leave and fired at the end of the month unless they are granted an exemption, according to a company memo seen by Reuters on Friday.

The U.S. bank announced its plan to impose new vaccination rules in October and now becomes the first major Wall Street institution to follow through with a strict vaccine mandate.

Its move comes as the financial industry grapples with how to bring workers back to offices safely and get back to business as usual at a time when the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading like wildfire.

Other major Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs & Co,, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co, have told some unvaccinated employees to work from home, but none has yet gone as far as sacking staff.

While Citigroup is the first Wall Street bank to enforce a vaccine mandate, a handful of other major U.S. companies have introduced "no-jab, no-job" policies, including Google and United Airlines, with varying degrees of stringency.

More than 90% of Citigroup employees have complied with the mandate so far and that figure is rising rapidly, according to a source familiar with the matter, adding that the timing of the vaccination mandate would be different for branch staff.

When it announced its policy, Citigroup also said it would assess exemptions on religious or medical grounds, or any other accommodation by state or local law, on a case-by-case basis.

The bank said then it was complying with the policy of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration requiring all workers supporting government contracts to be fully vaccinated, as the government was a "large and important" client.

"You are welcome to apply for other roles at Citi in the future as long as you are compliant with Citi’s vaccination policy," the bank said in the memo. "If you are not vaccinated, we urge you to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

DIVISIVE ISSUE

Vaccination has become a divisive issue in the United States, as it has in many countries around the world, with some people fiercely opposed and many Republicans critical of mandates imposed by governments and businesses.

The U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Friday over requests by Republican state officials and business groups to block a Biden mandate for firms with more than 100 workers that requires employees be vaccinated or tested weekly.

Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky, who advises companies on their return-to-office strategies, said many companies initially welcomed the White House's vaccine mandate because it took the matter out of their hands.

"However, companies are recognizing that the Biden mandate may not hold up at the conservative Supreme Court," he said. "If it doesn't hold then they are going to have the decision put back in their hands and they will have to do something."

Many financial firms have pushed back their return-to-office plans and are encouraging staff to get vaccinated and boosted, but have so far avoided vaccine mandates for legal reasons.

"This is going to be a challenging and complex policy to implement," said Chase Hattaway, a partner at law firm RumbergerKirk, noting the bank has to navigate federal anti-discrimination and other state laws.

"Citi will have to tailor its policy to state legislation, and in many cases, cities and municipalities will have different regulations as well, that may require even further carve-outs," Hattaway said.

UNPAID LEAVE

Jacqueline Voronov, partner at law firm Hall Booth Smith, said, however, that courts have been upholding the right of private employers to mandate vaccines.

"A private employer is allowed to mandate its own policy. And if Citi wants to have a mandatory vaccination policy, they can do that," she said, provided the bank offers medical exemptions.

An increasing number of U.S. companies have been using vaccine requirements to protect employees and avoid operations being disrupted by mass staff absences.

United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said last month the carrier fired 200 of its 67,000 employees for failure to comply with its mandate.

Many hospitals have fired staff for failing to comply with mandates, which have been imposed on the healthcare industry in more than 20 states.

While some companies such as Tyson Foods Inc have gotten more than 96% of its employees to take a vaccine, those in construction and retail have resisted vaccine mandates over fears of staff resistance amid a very tight labor market.

(Additional reporting Niket Nishant in Bengaluru, Tom Hals and Elizabeth Dilts; Writing by Michelle Price and David Clarke; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel, Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)

Mandating Vaccines For Air Travel Is A Flight Of Fancy

Most children learn that while a few pieces of candy are a treat, eating a whole bag can be misery. Most adult understand that taking a multivitamin every day may be good for your health, but taking two or three or four is a waste. In much of life, restraint is a virtue.

That may be news to Anthony Fauci. He is a justly respected scientist whose desire to protect the health of Americans is sincere and admirable. But even the best-intentioned souls can get overzealous. In recommending a federal vaccination mandate for all domestic air travelers, he overshot the runway.

It would undoubtedly put a burden on airline employees, who are already under severe strain just trying to keep the aviation system operating. Forcing them to inspect vaccination certificates for more than one million passengers every day would take time and energy. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in August, "It wouldn't be physically possible to do without enormous delays in the airline system."

When I contacted Clifford Winston, an economist at the liberal Brookings Institution, he raised other questions: "First, is the marginal benefit all that much? Second, would transmission be more likely because airline passengers would have a false sense of security and not wear masks? Third, would people try to cheat the system by providing fraudulent proof they were vaccinated?"

The risk of getting infected on a plane is clearly very low — otherwise, we'd hear of super-spreader flights every day. Airliners have hospital-grade ventilation systems, and the federal mask mandate provides another reliable barrier to transmission.

Nor is it clear how much a mandate would do to foil the omicron variant. Hundreds of flights are being canceled every day because airline employees have come down with COVID-19 — even at airlines that require all their workers to get the shots.

The problem is that though the vaccines greatly reduce the severity of symptoms, they don't prevent the vaccinated from contracting the virus. So it's not at all certain that a mandate for passengers would make an appreciable difference.

Even Fauci seems to know as much. In a Monday interview on MSNBC, he didn't argue that a mandate would make sense to protect passengers and crew. He argued instead that the requirement would be an incentive for holdouts to finally get the vaccine.

Even that is mostly wishful thinking. In a 2019 survey, 41 percent of Americans said they never fly and 28 percent said they fly only once a year. The former would have zero incentive to get the shots. Many of the latter who are unvaccinated would simply skip their annual flight rather than comply. Some of them would drive instead — which, as Winston notes, is far more dangerous than flying.

We should never forget that dictates of this sort impose on the freedom of individuals. Sometimes, that imposition is justifiable to protect others. But we shouldn't force vaccinations on people in the absence of clear, substantial benefits to society as a whole.

Many of those who refuse to get the shots have gained a measure of immunity through previous COVID-19 infections — making them less of a danger to their fellow citizens. But anti-vaxxers are mainly putting themselves in jeopardy. The rest of us can largely protect ourselves, even on airplanes, by getting vaccinated, wearing high-quality masks and sanitizing our hands frequently.

Yes, masks work. A study published last year in the Journal of Travel Medicine looked at long international flights to Hong Kong on Emirates, which enforced a strict masking rule. It found that no transmission occurred even on flights carrying several infected travelers.

Fauci and plenty of other people assume that with any tactic aimed at a worthy objective, more is always better than less. But sometimes, wisdom consists of knowing when it isn't.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Enforcement Of U.S. Vaccine Mandate Could Begin In Early January

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal agency on Saturday said it could start issuing citations to companies as soon as January 10 for failure to comply with a nationwide mandate that they either vaccinate or test regularly for COVID-19, as a U.S. Supreme Court showdown over the policy looms.

The announcement came one day after a U.S. appeals court reinstated the Biden administration policy that requires large businesses to verify employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.

Another court in November had blocked the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the legal battle is expected to continue to the Supreme Court.

On Saturday, OSHA said it would not cite companies for any kind of noncompliance with the rule before Jan. 10 "to provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance." OSHA also said citations around COVID-19 testing would not begin before Feb. 9.

The OSHA rule applies to businesses with at least 100 workers and covers 80 million American workers.

The rule has triggered a significant backlash, particularly in Republican-leaning states. Republicans hope to make popular frustration with COVID-19 safety measures a central theme in political campaigns ahead of the November 2022 congressional elections, when Republican hope to seize control of Congress.

President Joe Biden has argued the vaccine mandate is essential for fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 800,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.

Biden will announce new steps for fighting the pandemic on Tuesday, a White House spokesperson said.

The debate coincides with public health officials bracing for a "tidal wave" of coronavirus infections in the United States as the more transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly worldwide.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by David Gregorio)

Poll: Most Americans Reject Religious Exemption From Vaccine Mandates

Majorities of Americans across all major religious denominations believe there is no legitimate religious basis to object to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, new public opinion research shows, yet religious objections to vaccine mandates remain a popular and effective way for vaccine-hesitant individuals to avoid the shots.

Just over one in ten Americans say getting a COVID-19 vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, according to a Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core survey released in December, while 60 percent agree that there are "no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine."

Meanwhile, 59 percent of Americans told the pollster they thought too many people were using religion as an excuse to avoid COVID vaccines, and just under half (47 percent) of respondents went so far as to endorse eliminating all requests for COVID vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.

As with most matters pertaining to the pandemic, however, Americans' opinions were split along partisan lines. A total of 20 percent of Republicans indicated that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 went against their personal religious beliefs, compared to just seven percent of Democrats. Among those who said they got their news primarily from far-right outlets like OAN and Newsmax, known for amplifying anti-vaccine content, the number with religious objections jumped to 41 percent.

Unsurprisingly, those who've refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 expressed the strongest opinions in support of religious exemptions: 52 percent in that group indicated the COVID shots violated their personal religious beliefs, and just over three in ten said they have already asked or planned to request a religious exemption to a vaccine requirement.

As the American Independent Foundation was among the first to report, religious exemptions stand as one of the few legal avenues for vaccine objectors to avoid vaccine mandates. When more employers and government entities began requiring vaccines, some vaccine skeptics turned to online marketplaces to purchase such exemption request letters, the investigation showed.

In October, the Biden administration moved to tighten the rules relating to religious vaccine exemptions, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission formally noting that employers could reject exemption requests if granting unvaccinated employees' accommodations would place an "undue burden" on their workplace.

Yet in recent weeks, several Republican-led states have enacted new policies making it easier for religious objectors to avoid vaccination. In Kansas, lawmakers approved a measure that requires employers to grant any request for a religious exemption to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate so long as the request was submitted in writing. In Utah, lawmakers went even further, enabling objectors to dodge vaccine mandates based on any "sincerely held personal beliefs," even if those beliefs aren't tied to a specific religious identity.

Yet the issue of religious exemptions is hardly settled law. On Monday, for example, the Supreme Court declined to block a vaccine mandate for New York health care workers even though the policy didn't allow for religious exemptions.

No major religious denomination or sect directs its members to resist COVID vaccines, and in fact, many spiritual leaders have been among the most vocal advocates encouraging vaccination. Pope Francis has called getting vaccinated against COVID-19 an "act of love," while several Catholic leaders across the U.S. have formally instructed priests not to grant religious exemption requests.

But the practice remains popular, with growing numbers of U.S. service members, health care workers, city staff, and private employees seeking exemptions as a means of bypassing mandates.

The poll showed that majorities of Americans did endorse granting exemptions for those who have refused other vaccines in addition to COVID, those who belonged to a religious sect known to ban vaccination, and those who had a letter from their religious leader attesting to their beliefs against vaccines. Only 39 percent of Americans said anyone who simply says vaccines violate their beliefs should get one, though 57 percent of Republicans indicated they supported that view.

The PRRI-IYC poll was conducted online from October 18 through November 9, included responses from 5,721 Americans 18 and older across all 50 states, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Congress Averts Government Shutdown One Day Before Deadline

Washington (AFP) - The US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running into 2022 and avert a costly holiday season government shutdown.

With the clock ticking down to the 11:59 pm Friday deadline, the Senate voted by 69 to 28 to keep the lights on until February 18 with a resolution that had already advanced from the House.

The "continuing resolution" avoids millions of public workers being sent home unpaid with Christmas approaching, as parks, museums and other federal properties and services closed.

"I am glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed -- the government will stay open," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

"And I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown."

Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution getting a rough ride in the Senate, where a small group of hardline Republicans threatened to tank the measure in protest over the White House's pandemic response.

But Democrats agreed to allow a straight majority vote on defunding President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large companies, which promptly failed as expected.

The right-wing Republican group, led by Utah's senior senator Mike Lee, argues that the mandate is an assault on personal liberty.

780,000 Dead

The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and the troubling new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has raised fears of a winter surge in cases.

But legal challenges have mounted against Biden's edict requiring vaccination or weekly tests for some sections of the US workforce, including companies with more than 100 employees.

Lee had campaigned to remove federal funding to implement the mandate and was backed by right wingers in both chambers.

"If the choice is between temporarily suspending non-essential functions on the one hand and, on the other hand, standing idle as up to 45 million Americans lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and their ability to work, I'll stand with American workers every time," he said.

The figure Lee cited would represent more than a quarter of the 157 million people that make up the US workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Only five percent of unvaccinated adults say they have left a job due to a vaccine mandate, according to an October survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In the evenly divided upper chamber, any single senator can torpedo any vote.

But the majority of Senate Republicans -- including their leader Mitch McConnell -- were against the move, fearing they would be blamed for a shutdown.

Ahead of the House vote McConnell had indicated that Republicans would support the continuing resolution, although he gave no indication that he bring Lee and the other hold-outs to heel.

Deadlocked

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, earlier hit out at Lee and his backers, accusing them of "defiance of science and public health."

If Congress had failed to keep the government open, the closures would have begun just after midnight on Saturday and would likely have bled into the following week.

There has never been a shutdown during a national emergency such as the pandemic, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2018-19 stoppage wiped $11 billion from the economy.

The stopgap measure buys legislators time to negotiate full-year spending bills for the rest of fiscal 2022.

And with the threat of a shutdown off the table, Democratic leadership is now free to focus on passing Biden's domestic agenda -- a $1.8 trillion social welfare and climate spending plan.

The bill is central to Biden's legacy, but risks failing because of feuding between the Democrats' progressive and centrist factions.

Lawmakers are also deadlocked over the prospect of a first-ever US debt default that would erase an estimated six million jobs and wipe out $15 trillion of household wealth, tanking the economy.

The government is likely to run out of cash on or soon after December 15, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned, unless Congress raises the federal borrowing cap.

But Republicans say they won't help, despite having pressed for hikes under former president Donald Trump, because they want no part in the Democrats' historically large package of social reforms.