A Minnesota woman who was fired for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine and then denied unemployment benefits has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case, arguing that her First Amendment rights were violated.
“Religious belief is intimate and differs substantially among Americans. The promise of religious liberty in the First Amendment is that such differences may persist without punishment from the state. That promise is being broken in Minnesota,” James Dickey, senior counsel for the Upper Midwest Law Center, said in a petition filed with the court Monday.
His client, Tina Goede, worked as an account sales manager at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals until April 2022, when she was fired after being denied a religious exemption to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) rejected her application for unemployment benefits, a decision an unemployment law judge later upheld. However, DEED, a respondent in the case, later joined the Upper Midwest Law Center in asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reverse the decision, which it declined to do. The Minnesota Supreme Court later declined to review the case.
Monday’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court draws on transcripts of Goede’s appearance before an unemployment law judge (ULJ) in which she testified that she objected to the COVID-19 vaccine because of her religious beliefs, including the belief that her body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“She also believes abortion is the murder of an unborn child, and, therefore, she cannot, in good conscience, receive a medical intervention tested on or developed using cell lines from an aborted fetus without being complicit in sin,” says the petition.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals, however, claimed that there were “inconsistencies in Goede’s testimony concerning her reasons for refusing to be vaccinated.”
“[W]e conclude that there is substantial evidence in this record to support the ULJ’s finding that Goede refused to be vaccinated not because of her religious beliefs, but because of her purely secular concern about safety and efficacy, namely that the vaccine ‘killed more people than it sav[ed]’ and ‘doesn’t work,’” the Court of Appeals said, finding that Goede engaged in “employment misconduct.”
But Dickey disagrees that Goede’s religious and secular beliefs are “inconsistent.”
“Petitioner Tina Goede has both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ beliefs, as those terms have been used by courts over time. Like probably every person in history, some of these beliefs overlap, such that each — isolated and considered separately — could independently motivate the same decision,” he writes.
“So, Ms. Goede did express concerns about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. But she did not testify that these considerations were more important to her than her religious views, or that they served as the real basis for her objection.”
The petition is highly critical of how the unemployment law judge handled the case, saying his “interrogation” of Goede consisted of “gotcha questioning” and a “microscopic” examination of her religious beliefs.
“The ULJ also attempted to make himself an arbiter of the Catholic Church’s official positions on vaccination and thus undermine Goede’s religious objections to the vaccine — the ULJ even ‘googled’ the Vatican’s position on vaccines during the hearing and inserted his view of it into the record. The ULJ disputed with Goede whether her convictions on the COVID-19 vaccine as a Roman Catholic were plausible based on the Pope and Vatican’s position,” the petition says.
Dickey said the Upper Midwest Law Center has taken on seven cases involving individuals who were denied unemployment benefits after being fired for refusing to take the vaccine. In six cases, their clients obtained a reversal or reward in their favor.
For this reason, it’s “inherently unfair” that Goede is the one person who didn’t get benefits, Dickey said.