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Self-Described Evangelist Among Those Offering Religious Exemptions For COVID-19 Vaccine, But Experts Say No Guarantee Any Exemption Will Be Accepted

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With more employers announcing vaccine requirements, more workers are trying to request religious exemptions. CBS 2 found people all over the web sharing exemption advice and even a self-described evangelist asking for donations for letters.

CBS 2's Tim McNicholas found that true exemptions are rare.

The Pope, the president of the Mormon church and the Dalai Lama: Religious leaders the world over are embracing COVID-19 vaccines.

"Imams all over the Islamic world have taken the position of support for vaccines," said University of Chicago religious scholar Laurie Zoloth. "There is no major American or global religion that is saying their members shouldn't be vaccinated."

But away from the chapels and synagogues in the hallowed halls of the World Wide Web, things are a bit different.

"There are a lot of you saying, my pastor refuses," said a self-described evangelist offering vaccine exemption letters to anyone who wants one. "If I'm privileged to give someone, or, you know, several people a religious exemption letter request, and again you may not adhere to the tenets of this specific faith, I'm not gonna ask questions. It's not for me to ask questions."

"There's a lot of things in the Bible. There's nothing that says don't take a vaccine," said Zoloth.

Curious, our producer emailed her. He's fully vaccinated already by the way. She offered to write letters not just for him, but three family members, once he PayPal'd her at least $25. It's a $10 minimum donation for each additional family member after that.

This woman says she's a Christian. Our producer is Jewish. No questions were asked about religion or medicine or anything -- just the need for cash.

"Obviously I think that's inappropriate to say the least," said Dr. Rachel Rubin of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

She recommends employers with vaccine mandates review each request before allowing exemptions.

"And a committee is set up to review that. That includes ethicists, religious leaders as well as possibly medical experts," Rubin said.

The City of Chicago announced this week that its Human Resources Department will review each exemption request.

Chicago Public Schools says they may require a letter from a church and religious literature to demonstrate a sincerely-held religious belief.

"Simply having a note from any kind of religious leader isn't a hall pass," said University of Illinois at Chicago Law Professor Sonia Bychkov Green.

She said some employers might even require a doctor to sign off on exemptions.

"There's no guarantee that a doctor will accept it, and there's no guarantee that your employer will accept it, and there's no law that says anybody has to accept it," she said.

We did find some smaller groups that are outspoken against vaccines.

But all three of these women reached the same conclusion.

"No major religion has come out against the COVID vaccine," Green said.

This online ministry is not considered a major religion. Its only publicly-listed address is a Texas PO Box.

"We've actually been getting quite a bit of requests," the evangelist said.

But their Facebook does have over 200,000 followers, and many of them have commented requests for those exemption letters.

Legal experts say despite the religious support, exemption options are implemented because of our longstanding religious freedom laws.

As for that minister, she did not respond when we told her we wanted to talk to her for this story.

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