- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2021

Health care workers sued Maine officials this month for eliminating a religious exemption from the state’s COVID-19 shot requirements.

It’s the latest lawsuit in what legal experts predict will likely be one of many more legal battles weighing religious accommodations in light of the vaccine mandates.

Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty group, is representing hundreds of health care workers in Maine who are facing an order to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 1 without the ability to present a religious exemption to the shot.

“These health care heroes ran to the front lines to protect us. We will fight to protect them,” said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel.

They’ve sued Maine Gov. Janet Mills and state health officials this month, asking the court to block the enforcement of Ms. Mills’ mandate, arguing it runs afoul of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against religious discrimination.

“There can be no dispute that Maine is required to abide by federal law and provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines,” the lawsuit read.

A court hearing is expected early next month.

Ms. Mills’ office did not immediately return a request for comment about the lawsuit.

She announced Aug. 12 that all health care workers in the state needed to get the vaccine by Oct. 1, saying shots are the “best tool” to “curb this pandemic”

“Health care workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine people, and it is imperative that they take every precaution against this dangerous virus, especially given the threat of the highly transmissible delta variant. With this requirement, we are protecting health care workers, their patients, including our most vulnerable, and our health care capacity,” she said at the time.

Religious exemptions are being litigated in other states too.

Earlier this month, a federal court in Louisiana blocked a medical school from requiring students get the COVID-19 vaccine. The students argued the requirement violates their religious right to an exemption.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1905 a state has authority to require vaccinations, in the case of Jacobson v Massachusetts, the First Amendment is still a factor that courts must consider, Mr. Blackman said.

“The First Amendment should govern all disputes, even with a Jacobson vaccine case,” he said.

A new Connecticut law passed this spring requires students in the state to get certain vaccines sans a religious accommodation. COVID-19 shots are not yet on the list, but parents fear that is where the state was heading so they filed a lawsuit over the new law earlier this year.

Robert Tuttle, a law professor at The George Washington University, said these cases are difficult and he wouldn’t be surprised if it led to judges issuing mixed results. He said the different rulings could lead to the Supreme Court reviewing the issue.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see over the next three or four months a number of these cases,” Mr. Tuttle said.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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