Today, Liberty Counsel has filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 2,000 health care workers 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 MaineHealth, Genesis Healthcare of Maine, LLC, Genesis Healthcare, LLC, Northern Light Health Foundation, and MaineGeneral Health, regarding the state’s attempt to ignore federal law and remove religious exemptions and accommodations from unlawful COVID shot mandates for health care workers.
Prior to her newly minted shot mandate, Gov. Mills correctly recognized healthcare workers as heroes. “I believe we must do everything in our power not to fan the flames of fear but to encourage public health professionals . . . to continue their brave humanitarian work.”
Governor Mills rightfully declared that Maine’s healthcare workers were “superheroes” and requested that “all Maine people join me in thanking all of our health care workers who have heeded the call of duty and worked long hours, days, and weeks, often at great sacrifice to themselves and their families, to protect Maine people during this extraordinary crisis” (Office of Governor Janet T. Mills, Governor Mills Announces Four Maine Healthcare Superheroes to Attend Super Bowl LV Thanks to Generosity of New England Patriots’ Kraft Family – Feb. 2, 2021). Every word of that statement is equally as true today as it was the day Governor Mills uttered it.
However, on August 12, 2021, those same superheroes have now been cast as evil villains for requesting exemption and accommodation from the Governor’s edict for their sincerely held religious beliefs. On August 12, 2021, Governor Mills announced that Maine will now 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.
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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 are given to their religious beliefs, and they must receive a COVID-19 injection by October 1, 2021. Gov. Mills has threatened to revoke the licenses of all health care employers who fail to mandate that all employees receive the COVID-19 shot.
On August 17, 2021, MaineHealth denied Jane Doe 1’s request for a religious exemption and accommodation. MaineHealth stated:
Please be advised that due to the addition of the COVID 19 vaccine to Maine’s Healthcare Worker Immunization law announced by the governor in a press conference on 8/12/21, we are no longer able to consider religious exemptions for those who work in the state of Maine. This also includes those of you who submitting [sic] influenza exemptions as well. The State of Maine now requires all healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated by October 1st, which means you are two weeks beyond the completion of a COVID 19 vaccination series. (i.e., Both doses of the mRNA vaccine, or the single dose of J & J) as of that date.
You submitted a religious exemption; your request is unable to be evaluated due to a change in the law. Your options are to receive vaccination or provide documentation for a medical exemption to meet current requirements for continued employment (bold emphasis original).
On August 20, 2021, after receiving her first denial from MaineHealth, Jane Doe 1 responded to MaineHealth, stating:
My request for an exemption was made under federal law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights [Act] of 1964. The Constitution provides that federal law is supreme over state law, and Maine cannot abolish the protections of federal law. You may be interested in this press release from Liberty Counsel, and the demand letter they have sent to Governor Mills on this issue (which is linked in the press release): https://lc.org/newsroom/details/081821-maine-governor-must-honor-religious-exemptions-for-shot-mandate. Regardless of what the Governor chooses to do, Franklin Memorial has a legal obligation under federal law to consider and grant my proper request for a religious exemption. Please let me know promptly if you will do so.
That same day, MaineHealth responded to Jane Doe 1 stating that federal law does not supersede state law or the Governor’s COVID 19 Vaccine Mandate and that MaineHealth would not be following federal law on the issue. Specifically, MaineHealth stated:
Although I cannot give legal guidance to employees, I can share MaineHealth’s view that federal law does not supersede state law in this instance. The EEOC is clear in its guidance that employers need only provide religious accommodations when doing so does not impose an undue hardship on operations. Requiring MaineHealth to violate state law by granting unrecognized exemptions would impose such a hardship. As such, we are not able to grant a request for a religious exemption from the state mandated vaccine (emphasis added).
In denying Jane Doe 5’s religious exemption and accommodation request, MaineGeneral stated: “Allowing for a religious exemption would be a violation of the state mandate issued by Governor Mills. So, unfortunately, that is not an option for us.”
Liberty Counsel states the obvious question in the brief: “The seminal issue before this Court can be boiled down to a simple question: Does federal law apply in Maine? Though the question borders on the absurd, so does Defendants’ answer to it. Defendants have explicitly claimed to healthcare workers in Maine, including Plaintiffs, that federal law does not apply, and neither should they.”
All health care workers are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which does provide for religious exemptions and accommodations and mandates that employers provide them. Furthermore, COVID shots cannot be mandatory under Title VII. In general, employee vaccine religious exemption requests must be accommodated, where a reasonable accommodation exists without undue hardship to the employer, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many people hold sincere religious beliefs against taking any vaccines, or taking those derived from aborted fetal cell lines, or taking those sold by companies that profit from the sale of vaccines and other products derived from abortion. Title VII, as amended, prohibits two categories of employment practices. It is unlawful for an employer: “(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Further, all health care workers in Maine that are employed by the state also have protection for the exercise of their sincerely held religious beliefs under the First Amendment. These employees do not shed their constitutional rights upon entering government employment. Maine law provides a long-established common law right to all individuals to refuse unwanted medical care.
Defendant Nirav Shah of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MCDC) issued a statement that facial coverings are one of the most effective ways to prevent COVID 19. In its Face Covering FAQs page, the MCDC states:
How does wearing a face covering prevent the spread of COVID 19?
COVID-19 is an airborne virus that most commonly spreads between people who are in close contact with one another. It spreads through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. Because it helps contain respiratory droplets, wearing a face covering has been proven to be one of the most significant, effective, and easiest ways to reduce the spread of COVID 19. (COVID 19 Response, Face Covering FAQs -July 29, 2021), (emphasis added).
In fact, the MCDC still recommends that vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public settings. And the reason for this is simple:
A preliminary study has shown that in the case of a breakthrough infection, the Delta variant is able to grow in the noses of vaccinated people to the same degree as if they were not vaccinated at all. The virus that grows is just as infectious as that in unvaccinated people, meaning vaccinated people can transmit the virus and infect others. (National Geographic, “Evidence mounts that people with breakthrough infections can spread Delta easily” – Aug. 20, 2021), (last visited Aug. 23, 2021) (emphasis added).
In light of the above statements by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, how did facial coverings become so ineffective that these “superheroes” must now inject their bodies or face termination and the revocation of their licenses?
Liberty Counsel continues in the brief, “Plaintiffs have risen every morning, donned their personal protective equipment, and fearlessly marched into hospitals, doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, operating rooms, and examination rooms with one goal: to provide quality healthcare to those suffering from COVID 19 and every other illness or medical need that confronted them. They did it bravely and with honor. They answered the call of duty to provide healthcare to the folks who needed it the most and worked tirelessly to ensure that those ravaged by the pandemic were given appropriate care. All Plaintiffs seek in this lawsuit is to be able to continue to provide the health care they have provided to patients for their entire careers, and to do so under the same protective measures that have sufficed for them to be considered superheroes for the last 18 months. Defendants shamelessly seek to throw these health care workers out into the cold and ostracize them from the very medical facilities for which they have sacrificed so much solely because of Plaintiffs’ desire to continue to provide quality health care while still exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
No individual in Maine can be forced to violate their religious convictions. In fact, the state and all private employers with more than 15 employees, are required by federal law to consider and grant meritorious religious exemptions. The governor and the state cannot override or nullify federal law. In addition, any employer who refuses to consider or grant religious exemptions violates federal law. Maine cannot override federal law, or the federal Constitution. Maine’s purported guidance and attempts to remove federal protections and even religious exemptions available under federal law is causing direct and irreparable harm.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “There can be no dispute that Maine is required to abide by federal law and provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID 19 shots. Governor Mills cannot override federal law and force health care workers to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by forcing them to inject an experimental substance. All Maine healthcare workers have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious beliefs and forcing COVID shots without exemptions is unlawful. These superheroes should not be treated as villains.”