February 2019 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

A Minnesota nurse who was fired from her job at a hospital after refusing to get a flu shot has no right to receive unemployment benefits because she failed to prove her objections were religious in nature, a state court has ruled.

Robyn L. Potter, a part-time nurse at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, objected to a policy by the hospital’s owners, Essentia Health, that all employees receive flu shots unless they had valid medical or religious exemptions.      

Potter claimed an exemption, saying that her Roman Catholic faith teaches her that the body should be “blemish free.” Hospital officials, however, decided that her objection was a matter of “personal preference” and denied it. When Potter refused to get the shot, she was fired.

Potter later applied for unemployment benefits, but was denied. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development ruled that Potter was ineligible because she was fired for misconduct.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals found that Potter had received seven vaccinations between 2009 and 2012. She also acknowledged that her belief in keeping the body free of blemishes is not taught by the Catholic Church but is a personal belief.

The court ruled that Potter was “unable to provide any evidence supporting a connection between the practice of her religion and abstinence from the influenza vaccination.” Thus, it determined that her objection to the shot was based on a “personal, secular belief.” (Potter v. St. Joseph’s Medical Center)