National church group sues Janet Mills over healthcare worker vaccination mandate

A national Christian organization has filed a lawsuit against Governor Janet Mills and several of the state’s largest health care organizations over Maine’s requirement that health care workers receive the COVID-19 vaccine. or risk losing their jobs.

Liberty Counsel, which also represented an Orrington church suing the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, said it represented more than 2,000 healthcare workers across the state in the lawsuit. Although employees can opt out of the requirement to vaccinate with a medical exemption, there is no religious exemption in the policy. Liberty Counsel argues that the lack of such an exemption violates federal law.

The lawsuit against the policy — which is set to go into effect Oct. 1 — marks the latest flashpoint in heated debates over vaccine and mask mandates unfolding in a number of forums as Maine and the nation are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases of the highly contagious delta variant.

“This edict would force many physicians, nurses, medical professionals and other healthcare workers to choose between exercising their sincere religious beliefs and their jobs,” Liberty Counsel said in a statement.

The Maine attorney general’s office will “vigorously defend” Mills’ policy against the lawsuit and is confident the vaccine requirement will be upheld by the courts, Attorney General Aaron Frey said.

Maine has long required healthcare workers to be vaccinated against communicable diseases without legal challenge, and the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine is no different, Frey said. Federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, had already upheld COVID-19 vaccination requirements against legal challenge, he said.

“The requirement in Maine that healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 is based on a determination by public health experts that there is a need to limit the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare facilities and to protect Maine’s healthcare system,” Frey said.

The government defendants in the lawsuit are Mills and officials from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Liberty Counsel. Some of Maine’s hospital systems are also defendants, including Northern Light Health, MaineGeneral Health and MaineHealth. Genesis HealthCare, which operates a number of nursing homes in the state, is also a defendant.

As lawsuits over vaccine requirements have surged in recent months, courts have often sided with plaintiffs seeking to end such policies. Earlier this month, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett refused to block an Indiana University plan to require students and employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 19.

The religious freedom organization argues that healthcare workers are protected from vaccinations they object to for religious reasons under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The policy also violates the free exercise clause of First Amendment, Liberty Counsel said.

One of the employees that Liberty Counsel is suing on behalf of is an employee of Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, who is referred to as Jane Doe 1 by Liberty Counsel. The employee asked MaineHealth if she could qualify for a religious exemption for the vaccine on August 17. MaineHealth responded that state policy required that it deny its request.