Sister Deirdre “Dede” Byrne, a Roman Catholic nun and doctor who provides free medical service to the poor, has sued the District for refusing her a religious exemption to its vaccine mandate for health care workers.
Her attorneys filed the lawsuit against city officials Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to overturn the mandate.
She requested the religious exemption because all three COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States “have been tested, developed, or produced with cell lines derived from abortions, something to which Sister Deirdre has deep and sincere religious opposition,” said Christopher Ferrara, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based conservative law firm representing Sister Deirdre.
D.C. health officials allowed Sister Byrne to keep practicing medicine unvaccinated for nearly six months but then turned down her “amply documented request” for a religious exemption in an unsigned email, according to the lawsuit.
“The only stated basis for the denial is the legally non-existent grounds that her religious exemption would pose an ‘undue hardship’ to D.C. Health, which does not employ her and as a matter of law cannot suffer any ‘hardship’ from her volunteer medical services to private entities,” it states.
The complaint adds that T-cell testing confirms that Sister Byrne, a board-certified general surgeon and family physician, previously contracted COVID-19 and remains naturally immune.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is named in the lawsuit along with the city’s health department, did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit notes that Ms. Bowser, a Democrat, has twice been chastised by the district court for citing “emergency powers” to burden the free exercise of religion during the pandemic.
Mr. Ferrara said the case merits judicial action “to prevent a senseless bar on the practice of medicine by a religious sister who has devoted her career in the District of Columbia to healing the sick who cannot afford quality medical care.”
“The suit against Bowser and DC Health is based upon the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, both of which protect Sister Deirdre’s fundamental right to the free exercise of her religion,” Mr. Ferrara said.
Sister Byrne, a retired U.S. Army colonel, rose to national prominence when she gave a speech praising former President Donald Trump’s pro-life policies at the Republican National Convention in August 2020.
She served in the Army as a surgeon before joining the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 2002.
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