Pro-life nun sues DC over vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

Sister Deirdre Byrne, a Catholic nun, speaks at the 2020 Republican National Convention in support of then-President Donald Trump's pro-life policies.
Sister Deirdre Byrne, a Catholic nun, speaks at the 2020 Republican National Convention in support of then-President Donald Trump's pro-life policies. | YouTube/PBS NewsHour

A high-profile nun is suing the District of Columbia over its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, saying the requirement would force her to violate sincerely held religious beliefs.

Sister Dierdre “Dede” Byrne, a pro-life Catholic nun and practicing physician who works for a ministry providing free medical services to the poor, filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Health Department Director LaQuandra Nesbitt for not granting a religious exemption from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. 

The conservative law firm Thomas More Society is representing Byrne in the litigation filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Wednesday.

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“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 Dierdre has deep and sincere religious opposition,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara said in a statement.

The complaint contends it’s not necessary for Byrne to receive the coronavirus vaccine because she has contracted coronavirus and developed natural immunity, as confirmed by T-cell testing.

They believe that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “protect Sister Dierdre’s fundamental right to the free exercise of her religion.”

Ferrara said the complaint seeks 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.”

Byrne first submitted a request for a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate nearly six months ago, shortly after the district rolled out the vaccination requirement for healthcare workers as an emergency rule.

During that time, Byrne practiced medicine without vaccination and without objection from any hospitals or clinics where she served.

The D.C. Department of Health rejected Byrne’s request in an unsigned letter sent via email on Feb. 26, informing her that “You must immediately fulfill the requirement to receive at least one (1) dose of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine (i.e., Moderna or Pfizer) or the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and upload that information … to the D.C. Health Vaccine Portal.”

The letter, included as an exhibit in Byrne’s complaint, stressed that failure to do so could “prohibit you from renewing your license or result in disciplinary action including revocation or suspension of your license, registration or certificate.”

In a video, Ferrara said that those who need Byrne’s medical services would be “deprived of those services” unless an injunction is granted. 

The lawyer maintained that judicial relief is urgent because “that order denying her religious exemption request will become final on March 18.”

Byrne has spoken publicly about her opposition to abortion multiple times in the past year and a half. Speaking at the 2020 Republican National Convention, she described the unborn as “the largest marginalized group in the world.” She characterized the Democratic presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as “the most anti-life presidential ticket ever.”

Addressing a conference hosted by the pro-life group Heartbeat International last year, Byrne condemned abortion as “the greatest inhumanity.” She stressed the importance of praying for “politicians who are wanting to make the abortion pill over the counter so people will be able to take it like bubble gum or Tylenol.” According to Byrne, “their soul is in a mortal state.”

The lawsuit comes after Washington, D.C. relaxed many of its coronavirus restrictions and mandates, including the requirement that those seeking entry into most businesses in the district provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test and the mask mandate for school students.

A Feb. 14 document highlighting adjustments to the “Mitigation Measures for COVID-19,” including removing the vaccine mandate for entry into private businesses, indicated that the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers would remain in effect.

D.C. and its top public officials are also facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of parents with children attending D.C. Catholic schools seeking “nominal damages” for the harms caused to their children by the city’s school mask mandate that was lifted this week. 

There has been much litigation in the last year surrounding vaccine mandates nationwide. Many — including healthcare workers and military service members — have sued after being denied religious exemptions to vaccine mandates. 

There was much debate in Catholic circles over the morality of COVID-19 vaccines.

As some military service members sued for exemptions to the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate, the Roman Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy P. Broglio said last year that members of the Armed Forces should be exempt if the vaccine goes against “the sanctity of his or her conscience.”

“The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were tested using an abortion-derived cell line. That type of a link has been for centuries considered remote material cooperation with evil and is never sinful,” Broglio wrote.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic. If it were the only vaccine available, it would be morally permissible.”

In December 2020, the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement saying it was “morally acceptable” for Catholics to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Texas megachurch Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas argued last year that “there is no credible religious argument against the vaccines.”

“Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection,” Jeffress said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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