Maine throws out religious vaccine exemptions
Healthcare workers sue the state government and employers
More than 2,000 healthcare workers in Maine challenged Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate last week. The federal lawsuit says the Democratic governor’s directive, which includes no religious exemption, violates the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Maine removed the religious exemption to mandatory immunizations in early August, and state law now allows only medical exceptions.
Some people object to one or more of the COVID-19 vaccines because of a connection with cell lines from aborted babies, while others have religious convictions against taking any vaccines. Religious healthcare workers argue the personal protective equipment they wear, which is more protective than masks worn by the general public, effectively prevents the spread of COVID-19.
“All plaintiffs seek in this lawsuit is to be able to continue to provide the healthcare they have provided to patients for their entire careers, and to do so under the same protective measures that have sufficed for them to be considered superheroes for the last 18 months,” they contend, referring to a previous accolade by the governor.
In Maine, challengers cast Mills’ failure to allow a religious exemption as an attempt to override federal law. Regent University law professor Brad Jacob said a different argument might be more likely to succeed in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this summer in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia would suggest that since Maine provides a medical exemption to the mandate, the law is not generally applicable. That means it is subject to strict scrutiny by the courts. The state must not only show a compelling interest for the vaccine mandate but also use the least restrictive means to meet that interest.
Jacob also said the challengers’ claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the private healthcare providers named in the lawsuit may face difficulty. Under Title VII, employers have to demonstrate that they could not accommodate an employee having a religious objection without “undue hardship.” During the pandemic, that has not been a difficult case for employers to make.
A hearing in the case is set for today.
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