OKLAHOMA CITY – In a move to protect Oklahoma’s faithful frontline healthcare heroes from religious discrimination, the State of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today to block Ascension Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest healthcare networks, from carrying out its plan to fire employees who have been unfairly denied religious exemptions from Ascension’s nationwide COVID-19 vaccination mandate. “We will not tolerate any form of religious discrimination against Oklahomans who seek reasonable accommodations from vaccine mandates based on their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said.
Ascension, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, operates hospitals and healthcare facilities in 19 states and the District of Columbia, including Oklahoma. In the Tulsa area alone, Ascension operates dozens of hospitals, clinics, and specialty care facilities, including the St. John Medical Center. “The St. John leadership and employees are good citizens in the Tulsa community, but certain employment practices against those employees cannot continue,” said General O’Connor.
This past summer, Ascension mandated that all of its healthcare heroes nationwide receive a COVID-19 vaccine by November 12 or be fired. Ascension planned to fire employees who have not been granted a religious exemption on November 12. In the lawsuit, the State asks the District Court of Tulsa County to enter an emergency temporary restraining order, stopping Ascension from carrying through with the terminations.
Ascension reportedly said it would allow employees to apply for medical and religious exemptions by October 1 and would approve or deny the requests by October 12. However, according to an article published in The Journal Times on August 23, 2021, Ascension had already decided that it would summarily deny any requests for religious exemption or accommodation based on a sincerely held religious belief in the sanctity of human life and against the abhorrent use of aborted fetal cell lines in the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Healthcare heroes who sought a religious exemption on this and other sincerely held religious belief grounds have been flatly rejected by Ascension,” noted O’Connor. “In so doing, Ascension committed religious discrimination against Oklahoma healthcare heroes who oppose abortion.”
Before filing suit, General O’Connor made a personal attempt to speak with leaders of Ascension, through legal counsel, to persuade them to not suspend or fire people because of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Ascension refused to accommodate such requests.
“No Oklahoman should be forced to choose between a vaccine and their job, when it involves violating their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said O’Connor. “To threaten our frontline healthcare heroes with suspension and termination, unless they abandon their beliefs after they have so faithfully and fearlessly braved the pandemic for nearly two years is simply unconscionable. This cannot be tolerated,” said O’Connor.
The State asked the Court to block Ascension from suspending or terminating the employees.
The Petition can be accessed here.
The Application for TRO can be accessed here.