By Shelah Ogletree
Dunn Daily Record
Tom Ferguson of Dunn is in limbo. He wasn’t fired. He didn’t quit. Instead he is on an “indefinite leave of absence” with no work and no pay after he was denied a religious exemption to his company’s mandated COVID-19 vaccine policy. It all started with a memo…
When Ferguson received a memo from his employer, PruittHealth Hospice, on Aug. 9 saying the company was expanding its COVID-19 vaccination requirement policy, he read it with some concern.
The “Three Things You Need to Do” section stated: “1. Get vaccinated promptly; 2. Submit proof of vaccination; (and) 3. We will consider medical or religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis.”
Ferguson, who had already been submitting to the required testing and was negative, said he had heard of many adverse reactions to the vaccine, including paralysis and even death.
“As a contented member of the PruittHealth ‘family’ where ‘family makes us stronger,’ I decided to take option 3 and apply for a religious exemption,” he said.
A few days later on Aug. 25, Ferguson received a notification of a live, company-wide, town hall meeting to be held Aug. 27, so he jotted down a few questions to ask. Ferguson doesn’t have a copy of the comments he made during the town hall, but he did supply the Aug. 31 letter he says his immediate supervisor asked him to write in explanation of his town hall remarks.
“There was no intention on my part to call into question the integrity or sincerity of anyone within senior staff of PruittHealth,” he said in the letter. “I thought a town hall was a place for open discussion, but apparently, my act of questioning the safety of the vaccine upset the higher ups — my immediate supervisor drove to the Fayetteville office to tell me that I must write a letter explaining my actions so I did.”
Ferguson said he loves everything about his job, as well as the folks he works with, but he did not feel confident in the safety or effectiveness of what he considers an experimental vaccine.
“It’s not a conventional vaccine — a vaccine keeps a person from acquiring an illness,” he said. “This vaccine does not do that.”
He also took issue with the guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services being treated as law.
“Only Congress can make laws — the vaccine mandate is not a law,” Ferguson pointed out.
He said he may have eventually taken the COVID-19 vaccine once he felt it was proven safe, but then came Oct. 4. Ferguson went to work as usual that day, only to find out at 11 a.m. that he could not sign into his computer.
He said he called his boss, and the boss said he didn’t know what else for Tom to do but to go on home until they got it figured out. He hasn’t worked since.
“The fact that PruittHealth offered large, one-time bonus payouts to employees who were willing to take the jab never influenced me, in fact, it made me nervous to feel that I was being forced into an unwise decision, so I asked my pastor to sign my religious exemption form. As a Christian I have a God-given right to control what does or does not go into my own body,” Ferguson said.
Pastor Casey Strickland of Culbreth Memorial Pentecostal Church said, while he does not speak on behalf of his denomination, he spoke with Ferguson and understood his religious objections to taking the vaccine.
“Tom did not base his objection on the question of aborted fetal tissue used in in the production or testing of the COVID-19 vaccine or the references some people make to the Biblical mark of the beast,” Strickland said. “It’s my sincere belief that regardless if you are pro- or anti-vaccine, we should all be anti-mandate, pro-liberty. Although there is no verse that says ‘do not take the vaccine’ I think there are clear Biblical principles that affirm a person’s freedom in this situation.
“Primarily, it is outside of the government’s sphere of authority to dictate a personal health decision. Romans 13:1 says, ‘there is no authority except from God …’,” Strickland said. “Thus, governmental authority is delegated authority that is limited in scope. God has also granted a sphere of authority to each individual person.”
The God-given, freedom of choice objection Ferguson used in his appeal for religious exemption was officially denied on Oct. 12 by the PruittHealth Vaccine Exemption Appeal Committee. The email stated, “Unable to approve request. Free choice is not an acceptable argument for this purpose …”
Ferguson misses his PruittHealth family, but he says he does not regret his decision.
“I know I did the right thing,” he said. “Each person should have the autonomy to choose whether or not to take the COVID-19 vaccine without coercive bullying from the state or from anyone else.”