(The Center Square) – Leaked emails from within the Washington State Patrol show that all requests by troopers for a religious exemption to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine have been denied.
According to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH-AM770, one email reads, “At this time it has been confirmed that for any public-facing position, there are limited accommodations available,” and that “there is no accommodation we can provide for their religious exemption requests.”
Gov. Jay Inslee last month issued an executive order that all state workers, K-12 and public university employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face losing their jobs. At the time, Inslee said the state would make religious and medical exemptions available.
The Washington Federation of State Employees, a union that represents about 47,000 state workers, filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Inslee, saying the order violates the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
The union says that, for an employee to be considered fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, they would have to receive a second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine by Oct. 4 and a first dose by Sept. 6.
The WSP email, which Rantz says was issued by a captain, continues “I have already asked how this is possible and I’m seeking clarification on how we have been working in this COVID environment for the past 17 months utilizing the appropriate PPE and social distancing protocols to complete our mission.”
Public safety and staffing are at issue. Rantz said he also obtained an internal WSP poll that showed 295 troopers – about a third of the force – said they would refuse to be vaccinated, even at the risk of termination.
The uncovered emails have some calling for Inslee's resignation.
"Let me be clear, Governor Inslee has crossed a line with this never-ending abuse of emergency power and is now setting as state policy the persecution and firing of Christians and people of all faiths here in Washington," said Mark Miloscia, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. "I don’t say this lightly, but if he goes forward with this purge, he must resign as Governor."
Further reporting by KCPQ-TV13 in Seattle says emails it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Inslee’s staff wanted religious exemptions to be “as narrow as possible.”
An Aug. 3 email from Kathryn Leathers, Inslee’s general counsel, to Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s staff says of exemptions, “medical for sure; and religious (if we have to; if yes, as narrow as possible).”
Emails also show that Inslee’s staff briefly considered weekly testing for state employees who did not want to get vaccinated.
An exemption form obtained by KCPQ asks employees to affirm they “have a sincerely held religious belief or religious conviction” that prevents them from receiving the vaccine and that they “have never received a vaccine or medicine from a health care provider as an adult.”
The form also indicates that if an employee answers no, “additional information” could be requested.
“If they answer no, the HR professionals would engage in follow up questions to better understand the person’s history, such as demonstrating changes they have made as an adult based on those beliefs,” an Inslee spokesperson told KCPQ. “We understand people’s religious views may change over time.”