State Board of Regents to allow religious exemption to vaccine mandates, still undecided on federal mandate’s impact

The state Board of Regents voted to allow religious exemption to President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 executive order requiring federal contractors to implement vaccine and mask mandates for their workers.


Gabby Drees

Regent Jim Lindenmayer clasps his hands at a Board of Regents meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Kate Perez, News Reporter

The state Board of Regents voted to allow employees to obtain religious exemptions from federal vaccine mandates, but they said they were still working through how President Joe Biden’s impending vaccine and mask mandate for federal contractors impacts them.

The regents have not yet made an announcement about how the federal order applies to regent-governed institutions. Regents President Mike Richards said the regents are still trying to determine if the order will apply. 

“We’re working through the whole process to see exactly what it means for us. We want to comply with all state and federal laws,” Richards said. “It’s a day by day process.” 

The new policy could be used by employees working at regent-governed institutions to waive a vaccine mandate, if implemented. 

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, under a new Iowa law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last week, employees are able to claim a medical or religious exemption to an employer’s vaccine mandate.

The policy passed on Thursday allows the regents to develop a process for implementing those exceptions, Richards said. 

Richards said the regents will be the ones to interpret the law for their institutions and are working with Reynolds on the issue.

“The regents will continue to be the ones who interpret the law so that the universities are in compliance with state and federal laws,” Richards said. “We’re working with the governor, we’re working with all the state’s attorney general’s office, in our own legal state, and the federal government.”

Reynolds has joined a lawsuit challenging Biden’s rules for federal contractors, and announced Thursday she’d be taking “immediate action” to challenge mandates for employers with more than 100 employees.

Overall, the regents are continuing to work on interpreting Biden’s executive order and are unsure of when an announcement will be made, Richards said. 

“We’re trying to comply with both the state and the federal laws,” Richards said. “Every day, we’re working on it. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve taken this approach. There’s enough different decisions that we want to have consistency through our whole regent system.”

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