Are Christians Being Singled Out in New ‘Orwellian’ Database of Unvaccinated Workers?
“The current attempt by the federal government to collect, maintain and share information on its own citizens concerning their most personal and deeply-held religious beliefs under the guise of promoting health and safety is wrong and, given our history of religious liberty and tolerance, is decidedly un-American.” - Missouri AG Eric Schmitt
In the spirit of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, the U.S. Department of Transportation quietly posted a notice on Nov. 18, 2021, announcing the creation of a new system of records under federal regulation 86 FR 64597. The new regulation opens with the phrase, “In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974,” while, ironically, meaning quite the opposite: The federal government intends to violate your privacy.
Amid the distraction of a busy holiday season colliding with the rise of the Omicron variant outbreak, not much media attention was given to the announcement, which became effective the day it was published. With a short window for posting comments on the government website, only a solitary stalwart comment was published with any concern for the notice’s contents — the one provided by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
What should give every American pause about this database is the realization that hardly any American knows about it. Regulations.gov won’t make the cut for “Top 10 Website Hits” for most of us, so very few would ever know what the new database contains, who it impacts or the precedents it might set — let alone that it even exists.
The fact is that a new “system of records” tracking unvaccinated employees requesting COVID-19 vaccine exemptions has been created under Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s oversight. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has spelled out that it “intends to establish a new system of records titled Employee Accommodations Files.” The system allows DOT to collect, use, maintain and disseminate the records needed to process and maintain reasonable accommodation requests from employees seeking either a medical or religious accommodation to decline the COVID-19 vaccination. The notice goes on to say that the information will be used to determine whether accommodations are legally required in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Sounds pretty benign so far, right?
‘Proper and Necessary Uses of Information’
Not so fast. Buried in supplementary background information is the golden caveat for justifying disclosure of the database’s contents to law enforcement, the DOJ and other prosecuting bodies, foreign and domestic. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) call these “routine” uses of information “proper and necessary.” It reads:
DOT has included in this notice routine uses for disclosures to law enforcement when the record, on its face, indicates a violation of law, to DOJ for litigation purposes, or when necessary, in investigating or responding to a breach of this system or other agencies’ systems. DOT may disclose to Federal, State, local, or foreign agency information relevant to law enforcement, litigation, and proceedings before any court or adjudicative or administrative body.
In plain-clothes English, the regulation communicates that if an employee working for the DOT is suspected of breaking the law (What law? Any law? Vaccine mandates? Federal regulations?), information contained in these accommodation files can be turned over to law enforcement.
Comments Welcome, but Only for a Month
While the new system was effective upon publication, comments on its “routine uses” were accepted for 32 days following disclosure. With such a short comment window during a distracting holiday season, it’s no surprise that there was only a lone post by the Missouri attorney general’s office on Dec. 21, 2021.
The comment came in the form of a five-page letter addressed to “The Honorable Pete Buttigieg.” In the letter, Missouri AG Schmitt begins by giving Sec. Buttigieg a history lesson regarding the establishment of civil and religious liberty in America, going as far as to quote George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789, wherein our first president “singled out the free exercise of faith as one of the nation’s most foundational virtues.”
A Personal plea With a Side of Demand
As an attorney general, Schmitt uses his civil authority to appeal to another civil authority, the secretary of the Department of Transportation. Yet the tone of the letter to Sec. Buttigieg is personal, more like a heartfelt conversation from one concerned American to another. Whether Buttigieg cares to carefully consider his fellow American’s concerns, all other Americans should read between the lines of Schmitt’s powerful and persuasive words with posterity in mind:
Given the history of our nation and the tremendous cost at which liberty (including the freedom of religion) has been purchased by previous generations of American patriots, citizens are rightly alarmed when threats to this precious liberty arise. With that in mind, I am writing this letter because I, too, am very troubled that the federal government (praised by Washington as being ‘lately instituted’ to protect the rights of all to freely practice their faith), should choose the holiday season to quietly implement its Orwellian plans to track citizens who engage in the free exercise of their religion. 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 is so concerned about what the federal government put in place, and its future ramifications, that he went on public record to say so: “I therefore write this letter to respond to the federal government’s misguided policy. There is no freedom under our Constitution more sacred than the freedom of religious expression and practice. The Biden Administration must immediately dismantle its Orwellian Database.”
Tracked, Traced and Set Up to be Shared
With such database names as “Employee Accommodations Files,” “Reasonable Accommodations Records, OSHRC-9″ and the “Personal Health and Religious Information,” the information to be digitally stockpiled ranges from the usual name, date of birth and email to more unusual personal disclosures given in response to hyper-invasive questions regarding sincerely held beliefs, religious affiliations and on-the-job duties. Commenting on this non-exhaustive list, Schmitt fires out his objections to the “effort to collect such a staggering amount of information on self-identified religious practitioners,” asserting that “the policies announced by the Biden Administration leave little doubt that this information could be widely shared.”
In fact, the government isn’t even hiding the permission it is giving itself to share this information with federal, state, local or even foreign entities. As Schmitt points out, “no effort is made to explain why sharing information on the religious beliefs or practices of American citizens should be shared with foreign governments, but the question is one of several that begs an immediate answer.”
Exposing the Guise of Safety
Schmitt wraps up his letter to Buttigieg by exposing what he believes is the “most insidious feature” of the Biden administration’s disastrous record-keeping policy: its justification of government overreach in the name of protecting Americans from a virus — for their own good.
According to Richard Mast, senior litigation counsel for Liberty Counsel, “Lists of religious minorities have often preceded government persecution. Now in the name of COVID safety, the federal government creates a database of employees with religious beliefs. It can be disseminated or accessed virtually at will within the federal government, and by state governments. It can be shared with foreign governments. In an era of ‘doxxing’ political opponents and demonizing sincere religious beliefs, such a list is dangerous. Nothing prevents the list from being used for nefarious purposes by individual or institutional bad actors, and that’s what makes it so concerning.”
Schmitt concludes his letter the same way he started it, with a reference to history:
We should not forget that tyrants throughout history often justify the taking of liberty under the guise of safety. The current attempt by the federal government to collect, maintain and share information on its own citizens concerning their most personal and deeply-held religious beliefs under the guise of promoting health and safety is wrong and, given our history of religious liberty and tolerance, is decidedly un-American. As the chief legal official for the citizens of the State of Missouri, I object to the creation of this Database in the strongest possible terms and demand that you rescind this dystopian mandate immediately.
Secretary Buttigieg, are you listening?
Annemarie McLean is a writer for Liberty Counsel, a nationwide public interest civil liberties law firm committed to restoring the culture, advancing religious freedom, protecting the unborn, and strengthening the family. In 2012, she founded 3D Missions, an international outreach taking the Gospel to the nations through the performing arts, and co-founded Brave & Beautiful, a platform empowering young women to live, love, and lead courageously. She holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with post-graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.