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Vaccination Mandate Tested on Religious Grounds


In the decision Slykerman v State of Queensland (Queensland Health) [2022] QIRC 039, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (‘QIRC’) has rejected an appeal to reconsider a religious exemption to a Department of Health vaccination directive, Health Employment Directive No. 12/21 – Employee COVID-19 vaccination requirements (‘The Directive’). The QIRC found that the high risk to the health and wellbeing of patients, colleagues and other key stakeholders were found to outweigh the right of personal and religious freedoms.

The Appellant is employed by Queensland Health as a school based youth health nurse in Cook Town.  She was required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with The Directive. In accordance with the Directive, the Appellant applied for a religious exemption due to her religious beliefs which did not consider any of the current vaccines safe. Alongside her application Ms Slykerman included a letter from her Pastor, which confirmed that her belief was aligned with the Baptist Church.

The application for exemption was originally rejected due to the perceived risk the unvaccinated have on the patients, colleagues and stakeholders the Appellant would come in contact with during the course of her employment. This is particularly because her role involved working with vulnerable and indigenous communities. In the appeal, the Appellant stated there was no evidence to support the claim she was a higher risk whilst unvaccinated, and that her religious beliefs were not adequately considered.

The QIRC Industrial Commissioner, John Dwyer found the Appellant’s beliefs regarding the safety of the vaccination were actually entwined with her beliefs regarding the efficacy of the vaccination. He stated that this disconnect between the parties regarding the effectiveness of vaccinations against COVID-19 underpin the whole dispute. The Appellant stated in her written submission that her religious beliefs were not adequately considered, however Commissioner Dwyer stated that according to the original decision her beliefs were considered but that difficult choices must be made that require weighting personal freedoms against the greater good of the community and he dismissed her claim.

The Appellant also submitted that the Directive was unreasonable, however Commissioner Dwyer found that in circumstances such as these the onus is on the Appellant to prove the unlawfulness of the Directive. Commissioner Dwyer pointed to a large body of scientific evidence that supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccination, and that in the absence of any evidence of the contrary presented by the Appellant, the Directive was fair and reasonable.

Considering the two avenues of appeal presented, Commissioner Dwyer found that the decision to refuse a religious exemption was open to the original decision maker and is fair and reasonable. Her religious beliefs that the vaccinations were not safe or effective, were considered to be not as important as the potentially high risk of transmission and therefore illness to her patients, colleagues, and stakeholders, particularly given her position in a vulnerable community.

Slykerman v State of Queensland (Queensland Health) [2022] QIRC 039

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