In Oregon, the deadline for state workers to be fully vaccinated has passed. Gov. Kate Brown imposed the mandate in an attempt to increase the number of Oregonians who are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated state workers faced being put on administrative leave — unless they received either a religious or medical exemption.
It appears state agencies applied the prerogative liberally. Oregon granted religious exemptions to at least 11% of state executive branch workers.
Our reporting shows that out of 40,056 total executive branch employees statewide, 203 workers, or 0.5% of the state government’s workforce, were put on administrative leave due to not meeting the vaccination deadline.
According to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, of the employees subject to the mandate, 4,514 received a religious exception, 323 received a medical exception and roughly 180 religious or medical exception requests are still waiting to be processed.
Washington state, by contrast, lost 3% of its state employee workforce and offered far fewer exemptions. Officials say the contrast is likely because Oregon left the work of approving religious exemptions mainly up to agencies, while in Washington exemption decisions were made at the state human resource office level.
We are not in a position, nor are we in any way qualified, to judge the sincerity of any individual’s religious convictions when it comes to COVID vaccinations or any other doctrinal questions. We take these declarations of faith at face value.
But, in the Northwest, there are at least two other ways of approaching the evaluation of employee declarations of faith.
Centralized bureaucrats in Washington who didn’t know the employees and who didn’t have to keep the trains running are pretty skeptical of the piety of state employees. But when push came to shove, Oregon state supervisors faced with putting their colleagues and critical workers on administrative leave, while maintaining services, saw the light.
We have said at the outset that people who are able should get vaccinated for the COVID virus. While we respect the right of informed adults to weigh their own options and decide what is right for themselves, we think the vaccine is the best way to reduce infections and serious illness.
At the same time, we think government diktats mandating vaccinations are wrongheaded and counterproductive.
While they probably wouldn’t say it out loud, it looks as though the bosses at various state agencies in Oregon agree.