Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not require a clergyman or pastor to sign a religious exemption request for it to be valid, nor is there any such requirement under federal law. The First Amendment of the United States and Religious Freedom Restoration Act also do not attach the requirement that a clergyman or pastor validate your religious beliefs in order for you to be entitled to religious protections.
Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that an employer can request additional information if they have reasonable doubts about your sincerely held belief, practice or observance, but they cannot deny a religious exemption simply because it is not signed by a pastor or clergyman.
If an employer requires a signature, you could offer to provide third-party verification from others who are familiar with your “sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance,” or you could state that neither Title VII or the EEOC require a clergyman who ascribes to a particular denomination attest to the sincerity of your sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance — a standard that is very broadly defined.
EEOC guidance states:
“Since idiosyncratic [individual] beliefs can be sincerely held and religious, even when third-party verification is requested, it does not have to come from a clergy member or fellow congregant, but rather could be provided by others who are aware of the employee’s religious practice or belief.”
In U.S. v. Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, an employee at a nursing home said her religious beliefs prevented her from complying with a mandatory flu shot policy. The employer required that employees requesting religious exemption provide a note from a clergy leader.
The employee said she couldn’t, as she was not affiliated with a church or organized religion (which is also not required under Title VII or by the EEOC). Instead, she offered to provide letters from family and friends attesting to her sincerely held religious beliefs. When she was told it wasn’t sufficient and was threatened with immediate termination, she agreed to receive the vaccine.
The Department of Justice said the employer violated federal law when it refused to grant an employee an exemption from its mandatory flu shot policy without a note from a clergy leader. The county subsequently changed its policy.
If you have a pastor willing to sign your exemption request and/or want to strengthen your request by providing a letter or statement from your pastor, you can use The Vault Project’s same letter.
It has been successfully used for thousands of exemption requests, contains all relevant information and takes all of the legwork out for your pastor — who merely needs to sign the form. You would then turn in this letter with your exemption request.