National church group sues Janet Mills over vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

A national Christian organization has filed a lawsuit against Governor Janet Mills and several of the state’s largest healthcare organizations over Maine’s requirement that healthcare workers receive the COVID-19 vaccine or be at risk of lose their job

Liberty Counsel, who also represented a church in Orrington pursuing state restrictions on COVID-19, said he was representing more than 2,000 health workers across the state in the lawsuit. While employees can opt out of the vaccine requirement with a medical exemption, there is no religious exemption in the policy. Liberty Counsel argues that the absence of such an exemption violates federal law.

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

“This edict would force many doctors, nurses, medical professionals and other health care 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 demanded that healthcare workers get vaccinated against communicable diseases without legal challenge, and the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine is no different, Frey said. Federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, had previously upheld COVID-19 vaccination requirements against any 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 protecting Maine’s health care system, ”Frey mentioned.

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 the Maine 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 against vaccine requirements have escalated in recent months, courts have often spoken out against 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-vaccine. 19.

The Religious Freedom Organization maintains that healthcare workers are protected from vaccinations they oppose for religious reasons under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The policy also violates the free-practice clause of the First Amendment, Liberty Counsel said.

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