Healthcare workers continue legal battle against Maine's COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Man refusing to get injection of vaccine for coronavirus.
Man refusing to get injection of vaccine for coronavirus. | Getty Images/ Beyhes Evren

A group of Maine healthcare workers is appealing the dismissal of their lawsuit against the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which they believe violated their religious freedom rights.

The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group, filed a notice of appeal with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday in the case of Alicia Lowe et al v. Janet Mills.

The healthcare workers objected on religious grounds to Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which was enacted during the pandemic in 2021 and eventually repealed by the governor.

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“This unconstitutional law must be stopped,” said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver in a statement. “Maine cannot ignore federal law by summarily dismissing employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the experimental COVID shots.”

In August 2021, Maine required healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in hopes of curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Vaccinations are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people and to curb this pandemic,” said Gov. Janet Mills at the time.

“With this requirement, we are protecting health care workers, their patients, including our most vulnerable, and our health care capacity.”

Nine unnamed healthcare workers sued Maine for requiring them to get the COVID-19 vaccine even though they were morally opposed to the vaccines due to their being developed through the use of cell lines from aborted fetuses.

Two plaintiffs left the lawsuit because their workplace was no longer covered by the requirement. The names of the remaining seven plaintiffs were released in July 2022 as the litigation continued.

The named plaintiffs are Alicia Lowe, Debra Chalmers, Jennifer Barbalias, Natalie Salavarria, Nicole Giroux, Garth Berenyi and Adam Jones, reports News Center Maine.

According to court documents, Lowe was fired from MaineHealth for refusing to get vaccinated, while Barbalias, Jones and Salavarria were fired by Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Genesis Healthcare fired Chalmers and Berenyi for the same reason.

In October 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to provide emergency injunctive relief to the healthcare workers as the lawsuit continued, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett authoring a concurring opinion that Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, dissented from the denial of injunctive relief, writing that “Maine does not dispute that its rule burdens the exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs.”

U.S. District Judge Jon Levy initially dismissed the case in August 2022. However, the First Circuit reversed the ruling and sent the case back to Levy for discovery.

In July 2023, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced that they would ask the state government to end the COVID-19 mandate, citing widespread vaccination and a drop in coronavirus-related deaths.

Although the government argues that the case is moot since the mandate has been discontinued, Liberty Counsel argues that the state already caused "illegal harm" to its clients by prohibiting the state’s hospitals from granting their religious exemptions from the COVID-19 shots.

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