It has become common during the pandemic for businesses, medical facilities, and other public places to ask if someone has tested positive for COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of the virus before allowing them to enter the building. Like businesses and other organizations, ministries are generally permitted to request relevant health information before allowing an individual to participate in ministry events and activities.
Similarly, it is likely permissible to ask whether an individual has received a vaccination. However, it is important to note that many laws and regulations are being enacted or revised in order to address the concerns presented by the novel coronavirus. For this reason, ministry leaders are encouraged to consult with a locally licensed attorney on this issue to determine if any restrictions apply under federal, state or local law.
A ministry is generally free to prohibit an individual from attending services or participating in ministry activities if the individual is not willing to comply with the ministry’s policies. It is important to note that some individuals may not be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons or due to sincerely held religious beliefs. Further, at the time of this article, a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available for children under age 12. Therefore, if ministry leaders were to require people to be vaccinated, they will want to consider how to handle individuals that might not be able to receive vaccinations. As noted above, your ministry is strongly encouraged to monitor government directives and recommendations and consult with a locally licensed attorney to determine if any laws or regulations prohibit your ministry from mandating COVID-19 vaccination for attendees.
If your ministry does decide to require attendees to be vaccinated, ministry leaders will likely want to establish clear policies and procedures including what will constitute acceptable proof of vaccination and how to handle individuals who refuse to receive the vaccination. Ministry leaders might consider requiring individuals (or parents/guardians with respect to minors) that are not vaccinated or refuse to be vaccinated to sign a waiver of liability to help protect the ministry. You would also want to consider how you will communicate such a requirement to church members and attendees. It would generally be best to communicate these requirements before someone arrives at your facilities when possible. This could help avoid any potential confrontation from someone who may be upset by the requirement.
Lastly, when dealing with medical information such as vaccination records, ministry leaders need to be careful in how they handle sensitive information. It is a good general practice for ministries to keep confidential and sensitive information, such as medical information, in a safe and secure location. Ministry leaders should be aware that general privacy law could apply to sharing private, sensitive information, like medical information. For example, if the information shared is partially inaccurate or false, it could create liability for the ministry. However, obtaining consent to share private information is a common exception to most privacy laws and requirements. Thus, ministry leaders will want to be cautious before sharing health or other kinds of sensitive information without obtaining proper consent.
Posted January 27, 2021
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The information provided is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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