Law & Principles , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | January 9, 2023

O’Connor gets win for religious freedom

Ray Carter

In a win for Oklahomans’ constitutionally protected First Amendment right to religious freedom, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has reached an agreement with St. John Health System over its past practice of threatening employees with suspensions or the loss of their jobs when they chose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious beliefs.

The hospital system faced potential legal consequences for alleged violations of the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act and the Civil Rights Act.

“In defending the religious freedoms of our healthcare heroes, our job is to ensure that Oklahomans’ civil rights are upheld, and they are made whole,” O’Connor said. “And we are pleased that St. John Health System has agreed to take the measures necessary to make that happen.”

While St. John Health System disputes the allegations made by employees in complaints filed with the attorney general’s office, the hospital has agreed to extend an unqualified offer of reinstatement and/or compensation for lost wages and benefits related to employees who were suspended and/or fired during the height of the pandemic after religious exemption requests were denied.

St. John Health System also agreed to establish a claims process for employees or former employees who believe they suffered religious discrimination at the hands of St. John Health System. Such employees can contact the Attorney General’s Office at (405) 521-3921 to bring their claims to the attorney general.

The St. John Health System includes six Oklahoma hospitals in Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Sapulpa, Owasso, Nowata, and Bartlesville.

A press release issued by O’Connor’s office included a brief statement from a St. John Health System’s spokesperson: “The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office and St. John Health System are committed to serving the people of Oklahoma. We have reached a mutual agreement regarding the COVID-19 vaccination that protects the health and safety of patients and caregivers and honors the religious beliefs of employees.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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