- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The District has granted a religious exemption from its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to a Catholic nun and doctor who sued Mayor Muriel Bowser over it last week.

Sister Deirdre “Dede” Byrne, who provides free medical services to the poor, received the news in an unsigned letter from the D.C. Health Department, dated Tuesday.

In the letter, the health department acknowledges that it previously denied the request she submitted on Sept. 17 but does not mention the lawsuit.

“At the time of review, DC Health could not grant your request to be exempted from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement in the best interest of the public health,” the city agency states in the letter. “After careful review of current hospitalization rates and positive cases in the district, the decision has been made to APPROVE your exemption request.”

The letter says the exemption will be in effect until March 15, 2023.

Miss Bowser’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Sister Byrne, who has said she refused to receive any of the U.S.-approved vaccines because they depend on abortion-derived stem cells, welcomed the news.

“This is a win for religious freedom and I pray that this victory will set a precedent so others can express their God-given right to practice their faith without apology,” she said.

“This also increases awareness of the devastating practices of vaccine development and testing on the most vulnerable citizens of our society, the unborn,” Sister Byrne added.

Sister Byrne filed her lawsuit against city officials last Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, noting in it that the court had twice chastised Miss Bowser for citing “emergency powers” to burden the free exercise of religion.

Sister Byrne said in the lawsuit that D.C. Health turned down her “amply documented” request for a religious exemption in an unsigned email that claimed it would cause an “undue hardship” to the city.

According to Tuesday’s letter, D.C. Health issued “emergency regulations” on Aug. 23 that required all health care workers to receive at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine by Sept. 30.

“A religious exemption requires a narrative describing a sincerely held religious belief and explanation on how receiving the vaccine would conflict with that sincerely held religious belief,” D.C. Health stated in the letter.

Sister Byrne, a board-certified general surgeon and family physician, claims the District allowed her to practice medicine unvaccinated for nearly six months before cracking down on her.

But in her lawsuit, she says she previously contracted COVID-19 and remains naturally immune.

Sister Byrne, a retired Army colonel, rose to prominence in August 2020, when she spoke at the Republican National Convention in praise of then-President Donald Trump’s pro-life policies.

She served as a military surgeon before joining the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 2002.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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