By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Coast Guard has granted a religious exemption to an officer who sued after being denied a waiver from receiving a Hepatitis A vaccine that he believed was derived from aborted fetuses.
Lt. Cmdr. Joseph J. Healy, a Catholic from Catonsville, Md., sued the Coast Guard in 2007 after his original request for an exemption was denied. He had stated his Catholic beliefs caused him to oppose abortion, and he believed claimed that the vaccine is derived from the cells of aborted fetuses.

“Christians shouldn’t be punished for abiding by their beliefs against abortion,” said Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented Healy and planned to seek a dismissal of the suit.
“The Coast Guard has done the right thing in recognizing that those who lay their life on the line to defend our shores are entitled to the same freedom as anyone else not to have their particular beliefs disregarded.”
In 2006, the Coast Guard announced that all active-duty members were required to receive the Hepatitis A vaccination unless they could prove immunity. Healy argued in his suit that receiving the vaccination would cause him to “be impermissibly participating in the evil of abortion.”
Eric Young, a litigation lawyer for the Coast Guard, said a notice was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 9 stating that Healy had been granted a temporary religious exemption.
“The Coast Guard rescinded its original denial letter and looked at it under a new set of glasses, essentially, and reached a decision that it was appropriate to grant a temporary exemption,” Young said.
The waiver request notes that “exemption may be revoked under imminent risk conditions.”
Young said religious exemption requests are rare in the Coast Guard and in the last decade, Healy’s is the only one he knows has been approved.

Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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