I understand that this letter will not be received well by all. I know that we all have our own opinions, biases and only see through our own lens. And some no doubt have raw emotions from losing loved ones.
Please understand my hope is not to argue or invalidate your loss but instead to share my heart and why I have concerns about the recent mandate for those, like myself, who will soon be forced to vaccinate or lose employment.
This time of COVID-19 has been such a trying time for my family and the families that I continue to serve in my community. I empathize with those who have lost family or friends from this virus and the social, emotional and financial impact this has caused. I empathize with the few who want a vaccine but cannot take it.
Personally, I’ve had many friends and family come down with this virus, a hospitalization and recovery. The virus went through my household as well and presumably we have lingering natural immunity. For our family, the symptoms were moderate and not nearly as severe as when we had H1N1. I know other families who were not as lucky as us, especially those with elderly or ill family members. I also know people in my circle who have developed Bell’s palsy and ongoing inflammation concerns after vaccination. This virus and vaccine impacts us all in different ways.
I have been a Washington state employee for six years and a community member of Lewis County for most of my life. My choice to continue to live and work in my community in nonprofit organizations and as a public servant to help others was greatly influenced by my personal faith. Likewise, my life experience growing up with an autoimmune illness and benefiting from and knowing the impact of caring people.
I grew up in a small church community where we were taught to give unto Caesar what is his, to consider others in high esteem and to love your neighbor as yourself. I grew up with the belief that our bodies are a temple and that we are to be good stewards of it so that we will be equipped to do good works and share our faith and love. I have also grown up with a religious belief that I don’t participate in vaccines because of using fetal cells during development and testing. Prior to this pandemic, I have not vaccinated as an adult. And I certainly don’t begrudge those who do. But being forced to take a vaccine or else lose my career and my means of providing for my family is giving the government and others control over what does not belong to them — my body, my freedom and my faith.
Quite frankly, I chose this line of work exactly because of my personal and faith convictions. This is inherently a religious topic and a valid religious exemption. But should I even have to prove whether my faith is sincere enough or meets the arbitrary approval of the state?
People wrongly claim that being told to vaccinate or leave employment (without unemployment benefits) is not the same as someone forcibly vaccinating you. I disagree. When a person’s livelihood is threatened if they don’t go against their sincere and reasonable religious beliefs, then this is coercion and economic injustice at best. At worst, it is harassment and persecution of one’s beliefs and livelihood.
Washington state allows for a person to leave employment and still receive unemployment benefits on the grounds of a hostile work environment. What is more hostile than to be threatened with loss of a job and loss of unemployment benefits paid into by the highest executive in the state? People who disparage others to tell them “just find other work” discount the time, money and commitment invested in education, years of service and a lifetime of choices made.
This mandate is inherently discriminatory, coercive and inconsistent in application when it applies to a small percentage of our 7.6 millions citizens and does not apply equally. If a mandate is appropriate, it should apply to every citizen and the Legislature should be the only body to approve this action.
The fact that I have sincere religious convictions and medical concerns should be enough when any exemptions are made for any other citizen. I have dealt with health concerns including an autoimmune issue and other medically relevant issues. I had reasons to follow through with chromosomal and other testing but did not pursue it in part due to finances. The fact that these tests could have strengthened a medical exemption but was cost prohibitive shows that this arbitrary mandate inherently breaks down along socioeconomic lines.
By mandating a vaccine against my convictions and need after I had the virus, it sets a precedent that it is OK for the state to discriminate against who they hire and fire based on a standard that does not apply to all Washington state citizens.
Certain minority status groups of people have traditionally had vaccine hesitancy and trust issues with the government along lines of culture and race. Is the state in the business of discriminating in the hiring and firing based on this? And what about diversity of thought? The state loses much by way of diversity when pushing this on government workers while exempting much of the rest of the state.
And because of the hastiness in this mandate without going through legislative process, the state is now in position to have no way of assessing the impact of early retirement and public sector exodus. I am worried and stressed about the impact on the clients I work for and the coworkers I work with.
As a Christian first, a libertarian second and a state employee, I must remember to always be above reproach, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness, speak honestly and earnestly, lead with love, live by example, live peaceably with all people to the best of my ability and to remain strong in my faith despite the world around me, even my own government and employer.
I truly believe that when the government becomes the sole arbiter and discriminator between faith groups for religious exemption it puts the government in the position to establish one religion over another and prohibit some in certain faith communities from living out their convictions.
This is a dangerous precedent.
To be clear, I understand, the 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, established that it is the state’s Legislature's prerogative to adopt medical opinion about public health and to enforce it by the police power of the State. However, this enforcement was to be necessary and not arbitrary,reasonable to mitigate the threat, proportional to the expected benefit and not unnecessarily invade personal autonomy, and not pose a health risk to its subjects unless it be “cruel and inhumane.”
Considering that vaccines are widely available to those who want them and vaccinated people (such as in Barnstable, Massachusetts) can pass on the virus with similar viral loads, it seems unclear that this mandate remedies the public health concern in proportion to the expected benefit. Furthermore, instead of a blanket statewide mandate for all citizens, this mandate targets certain residents irrespective of local public health tracking. It arbitrarily applies a mandate and creates a second class of citizens.
Still for many, questions remain as to whether Gov. Jay Inslee has authority to impose a personal vaccine mandate outside of the state Legislature as our governor is declining a special legislative session despite the public health emergency.
This is politics.
Last week, I received an email from Secretary of the Department of Children, Youth and Families Ross Hunter, the head of my employer. In this email, I was told that I must submit a religious exemption request by 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 30. The email provided no form to submit, nor any information on the process timeline, and it does not state where to send it. The email also indicated that there was currently no process in place to verify who has the vaccine and who does not.
The letter gives us workers until Sept. 6 to get the first vaccine shot, references vaccine shortage and verifies that getting this vaccine is a condition of my employment.
The letter also says, "for many positions, accommodations will not be feasible" and, "some of us (Ross Hunter, regional staff, and some supervisors) spend much of our time in home offices, but I know that is not all of you, particularly those who work in our field offices (like myself)."
It is clear from his statements that he and Gov. Inslee are creating two classes of people: state clergy who decide what is best for others (retaining the benefits of immunity from their own rules and the power of absolution) and the laypeople who must follow the edicts and ask for graces to petition dispensation."
Zachary Pilz is a resident of Lewis County.