There appears to be a “coordinated data collection” effort being undertaken across a wide spectrum of federal agencies, concerning employees who have requested a religious exemption to federal vaccination mandates, according to the Heritage Foundation.
In a report entitled “18 More Federal Agencies Eye Making Vaccine Religious-Objector Lists” published on January 18, Sarah Parshall Perry and GianCarlo Canaparo followed up on a story they broke on January 11 for The Daily Signal concerning one obscure federal agency, the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia, which announced it would be storing the names and “personal religious information” of all employees who make “religious accommodation requests for religious exception from the federal mandated vaccination requirement.”
Upon further investigation, the pair unearthed a widespread data-collection effort across 19 federal agencies – including Cabinet-level agencies such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of the Treasury.
Noting that the federal government is the nation’s largest employer, with over four million civilian and military employees, and has received tens of thousands of religious exemption requests, the Heritage report asks why the federal government is keeping and preserving those individuals’ names, religious information, personally identifying information, and other data stored in lists across multiple government agencies.
The new policies are flying under the radar, published only in the pages of the Federal Register and attracting little attention and public comment.
In addition to Heritage, others are beginning to notice and raise an alarm.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, for example, published a comment on the Department of Transportation website on December 20 objecting to that agency’s data collection efforts.
“I am writing this letter, because I, too, am very troubled that the federal government … should choose the holiday season to quietly implement its Orwellian plans to track citizens who engage in the free exercise of their religion,” Schmitt wrote.
“Indeed while millions of Americans are busy making plans and gathering with their loved ones to celebrate the blessings of a free people, a coordinated effort to catalogue and monitor those who self-identify as ‘religious’ has been put into place.”
Schmitt explains why this effort chills federal employees’ First Amendment rights.
“The chilling effect on a citizen’s exercise of religion due to the creation of this Database is alarming,” he wrote. “First the federal government decrees that a citizen who seeks a medical exemption or a waiver based on a sincerely held religious belief has automatically consented to being entered in the Database. To put it plainly, invoking the legal right to exercise one’s religious faith risks simultaneously waiving that same legal right.”
The amount of information being requested by various agencies is “staggering,” according to Schmitt. And it’s clear that the information will be shared across “Federal, State, local or foreign” jurisdictions, according to DOT’s own published policies concerning data collection and sharing.
First Liberty Institute is a public interest law firm specializing in religious freedom issues. In a statement published on its website recently concerning these latest revelations, the organization warned against the dangers of the government keeping lists of its religious citizens.
“Make no mistake, these are alarming actions,” First Liberty asserted. “These policies could negatively impact religious freedom for people of all faiths across the country. It’s incredibly dangerous (indeed, dystopian) for the government to have a list of religious citizens at its disposal.
“It’s helpful here to heed the lessons of history. Tyranny and repression aren’t too far away when the state begins to actively track the faithful. Religious liberty is greatly endangered once the state monitors religious citizens in order to get them to conform to the government’s sanctioned viewpoint.”
The dangers are not simply hypothetical, either. Just last summer the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s attempt to force charitable organizations to disclose the identity of their major donors. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority, people of faith are entitled to privacy in a culture that is increasingly hostile to them.
“The petitioners here, for example, introduced evidence that they and their supporters have been subjected to bomb threats, protests, stalking, and physical violence,” Roberts stated.
“Such risks are heightened in the 21st century and seem to grow with each passing year, as ‘anyone with access to a computer [can] compile a wealth of information about’ anyone else, including such sensitive details as a person’s home address or the school attended by his children.”
That’s why it’s so disturbing to hear of the federal government’s latest attempt to create lists of religious objectors. Nothing good can come of it.
Photo from Shutterstock.