This week, we revealed that an obscure federal agency planned to keep lists of “personal religious information” employees who had religious objections to the mandate to vaccinate federal employees.
It turns out that the little-known District of Columbia Pre-trial Services Agency isn’t the only federal agency involved. As we feared, a whole-of-government effort appears to be underway.
A quick dig at the Federal Register revealed that there are at least 19 federal agencies in total — including five cabinet-level agencies — that have created or proposed to create these tracking lists for their employees’ religious exemption requests. .
The list includes the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, and Department of Treasury, to name a few.
As the nation’s largest employer, with more than four million civilian and military employees, the federal government has received tens of thousands of requests for religious exemption. It now appears that a growing number of federal agencies retain and preserve names, religious information, personally identifiable information, and other data stored in lists from multiple government agencies.
The first set of proposals appear to have been rolled out in October last year, at the start of the holiday season, with the aim of ensuring that very little attention was paid to a coordinated data collection movement. Many ads only had a few page views. Almost none prompted public comment. Most only allowed a 30-day window to submit objections. All announcements were posted within weeks of each other.
The timing alone raises questions.
DC’s Pre-Trial Services Agency was just the most recent iteration of a disturbing trend – the Biden administration is creating lists that can all communicate with each other on which individuals have requested exemptions Federal employees’ vaccination mandate religious or other religious accommodations within the scope of their government employment.
Several, but not all, of the notices say they are being issued to implement Biden’s COVID-19 executive order on federal government employees. The others introduced the Privacy Act of 1974 – which establishes a code of information practices that governs the collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of information about individuals stored by federal agencies – as justification for the creation of a new list.
Agencies plan to collect religious affiliation, reasons and support for religious accommodation requests, names, contact details, date of birth, aliases, home address, contact details and other information identification. These lists will be shared among federal agencies.
The notices don’t explain how long they plan to store this data, why they need to share it between agencies, or why they need to retain it beyond deciding whether to grant or deny an religious accommodation request. an employee.
The Federal Register announcements raised eyebrows for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. In his public comment to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stating fierce opposition to the creation of the list, he noted:
On Nov. 18, under the direction of the Biden administration, four federal agencies simultaneously announced that those who exercise their legal right to seek a health or religious waiver from a vaccination mandate would be tracked in federal databases. Rather than giving the public sufficient time to weigh in on the propriety or legality of collecting such personal information, the DOT database in particular became effective the day of its publication…
The chilling effect on a citizen’s exercise of religion due to the creation of this database is alarming…the federal government decrees that a citizen who seeks a medical exemption or waiver based on sincere religious belief has automatically consented to be included in the Database. To put it plainly, invoking the legal right to exercise one’s religious faith risks at the same time forgoing that legal right.
On the day we published the article about the Agency’s announcement of pretrial services in the Federal Register, the notice had 16 views. As of this story’s publication, it now has more than 13,000.
Schmitt demands answers from the Biden administration. We hope more people will too.
And based on those numbers, they just might.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal