U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has ordered Governor Janet Mills, health officials of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and five of Maine’s largest hospital systems to respond by Monday, October 25, to Liberty Counsel’s request for immediate relief for health care workers until it decides to review the case.
Liberty Counsel will also file the petition for writ of certiorari on behalf of more than 2,000 Maine health care workers asking the High Court to review the case since there is now a split in the circuits, with the First Circuit (governing Maine) denying injunctive relief and the Second Circuit (governing New York), granting injunctive relief regarding virtually identical factual and legal issues. The governors of both states issued executive orders mandating that all health care workers get the COVID shots. They further stated that there would be no religious exemptions considered even though federal law protecting the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees preempts state law.
Governor Mills has threatened to revoke the licenses of all health care employers who fail to mandate that all employees receive the COVID-19 injection, despite the unconstitutional fact that she is discriminating against religious employees who decline vaccination while favoring those who decline for secular, medical reasons. The governor originally stated health care workers must receive a COVID-19 injection by October 1 and then extended the deadline for compliance to October 29. However, this required that plaintiffs had to accept the first injection that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs by no later than Friday, October 15, 2021.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “We are pleased that the state of Maine has been ordered to respond to our emergency request for relief on behalf of over 2,000 healthcare workers. Gov. Janet Mills cannot nullify federal law and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Earlier this week, Breyer rejected an emergency appeal from thousands of Christian health care workers in Maine, who are opposed to Governor Janet Mills’ mandate that they get the COVID vaccine or be fired from their jobs.
More than 2,000 health care workers filed suit against Governor Janet Mills, health officials of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and five of Maine’s largest hospital systems.
Breyer denied the emergency injunction pending appeal (IPA) without prejudice. He made clear the denial was “without prejudice” and that the request could be refiled if the First Circuit Court of Appeals denies relief or if the First Circuit does not rule by October 29.
Mills’ executive order purports to override both Title VII employment law and the First Amendment Free Exercise clause. Her discriminatory order mandates the shots and states health care workers cannot raise religious exemptions claims. Her mandate requires that health care workers get the COVID vaccine by October 29 or lose their jobs.
As AP reports, “The opponents’ underlying case challenging the mandate will now go forward before the appellate court in Boston. In denying the emergency motion, Breyer said that Liberty Counsel, the organization that sued Mills over the vaccine mandate on behalf of health care workers who have religious objections to it, may seek an emergency injunction again if the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules in the state’s favor or does not issue a decision by Oct. 29.”
“A three-judge panel in Boston on Friday rejected a similar emergency motion that appealed the ruling of a federal judge in Maine who declined to halt the vaccine mandate. But the appellate court fast-tracked the case so that a detailed ruling could be issued before the enforcement deadline in 10 days,” it added.
On August 12, 2021, Governor Mills announced that Maine will require health care workers to accept or receive one of the three, currently available COVID-19 shots to remain employed in the healthcare profession. This edict would force numerous doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and other health care workers to choose between the exercise of their sincerely held religious beliefs and their employment. Governor Mills and state officials explicitly and illegally claim that federal law does not apply to health care workers in Maine and that no protections or considerations will be given to their religious beliefs. The governor originally stated they must receive a COVID-19 injection by October 1 and has now extended the deadline for compliance to October 29.
Gov. Mills has threatened to revoke the licenses of all health care employers who fail to mandate that all employees receive the COVID-19 injection, despite the unconstitutional fact that she is discriminating against religious employees who decline vaccination while favoring those who decline for secular, medical reasons.
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For example, there is discriminatory treatment between federal employees and other health care workers in Maine. The Department of Veterans Affairs at the VA Maine Healthcare System in Augusta “permits and freely grants exemptions and accommodations to healthcare employees with sincerely held religious objections to mandatory vaccinations.” Employees are merely required to check a box requesting a religious exemption and are granted accommodation.
On the other hand, one health care worker is employed at the federal VA facility and was given a religious accommodation. However, this same employee was also a per diem employee at Eastport Memorial Nursing Home where she requested a religious accommodation and was denied and discriminatorily fired. Ironically, these two facilities are located nine miles apart. Therefore, according to Maine’s governor, somewhere along that route the law seems to disappear.
Accommodations for patient-facing health care workers with sincerely held religious objections to the shots cannot mean one thing in most states and not in the vast majority of Maine. This is evident with employers granting accommodations to health care employees in Oregon, California, Washington, New Mexico, Missouri, Texas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Florida. These health care providers include top education and research hospitals such as University of Colorado, University of Chicago, University of Maryland, Temple University; some of the largest health care providers in the nation including Kaiser Permanente, Trinity Health, and Advocate Aurora Healthcare with hundreds of thousands of employees providing patient-facing care and accommodating the subset of those with sincere religious beliefs; and mid-size and smaller health care providers that have also readily accommodated patient-facing personnel with sincere religious beliefs.
In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act clearly requires that every employer with over 15 employees must provide religious accommodations “unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship.” For months, health care employees have worked every day with reasonable accommodations and history underscores that the state and the employers can continue to provide accommodations.
On September 14, the Northern District Court of New York granted a temporary restraining order for all health care workers against the state’s unconstitutional attempt to ignore federal law and remove religious exemptions and accommodations from unlawful COVID shot mandates for health care workers. Governor Mills’ mandate is identical to New York’s in its removal of religious accommodations, and its fate should be the same.
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Author: Steven Ertelt
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