Maine Health Care Workers Appeal Against Case Dismissal

Jan 25, 2023

BANGOR, ME – Liberty Counsel filed an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in response to federal Judge Jon Levy’s dismissal of  Alicia Lowe, et al., v. Janet Mills, et al, involving Maine health care workers who were terminated because their religious exemptions from the COVID-19 shot mandate were denied. 

Liberty Counsel represents seven health care workers in Maine who have sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from accepting any of the COVID-19 injections because of the connections to aborted fetal cell lines and for other religious reasons. Plaintiffs believe that God forms children in the womb and knows them prior to their birth, and that life is sacred from the moment of conception. 

Their lawsuit 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 the state’s largest hospital systems, challenges the Maine law that requires employees of designated Maine health care facilities to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 shot. Governor Mills ordered employers to deny all religious exemptions and ignore the federal employment law known as Title VII that affords employees the right to request reasonable accommodation for their sincere religious beliefs. Governor Mills also threatened to revoke the licenses of all health care employers who fail to mandate the shot to their employees.

On September 1, 2021, Dr. Nirav Shah, former director of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, amended the state’s administrative regulation to eliminate the ability of health care workers to request and obtain a religious exemption and accommodation from the COVID-19 shot mandate. However, federal law requires that employers accept religious accommodations to mandatory vaccinations. 

In his dismissal, Judge Levy stated there can be no accommodation for the plaintiffs since they only asked for an exemption. However, there cannot be an accommodation without an exemption. He stated to grant an exemption under Title VII would violate state law, so it is an undue hardship. That statement turns the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution on its head. Judge Levy does not dispute that the complaint stated a claim, which is the standard for a motion to dismiss, but he stated it would create an undue hardship to grant an exemption. 

The Free Exercise Clause does not allow for discrimination between religious accommodations and medical accommodations. However, Judge Levy claims that distinguishing between religious accommodation and medical accommodations is irrelevant because the state has different interests in the two. He claims that the risk is different between the two. However, that is contrary to recent Supreme Court precedent involving COVID restrictions on places of worship and many other Supreme Court decisions. 

As Liberty Counsel states in the appeal, “Defendants cannot have their cake and eat it too, relying on the Vaccine Mandate to say it would be an undue hardship to violate state law while at the same time espousing that the Vaccine Mandate does not prohibit employers from providing an accommodation under Title VII. It must be one or the other but cannot be both. If the State Defendants prohibit such an accommodation, then compliance with such a rule would violate Title VII by prohibiting that which Title VII requires. If State Defendants do not prohibit such an accommodation under Title VII, then Provider Defendants cannot claim an undue hardship for violating a state law that does not prohibit providing Plaintiffs with accommodations. Yet, the district court permitted this precise ‘heads I win, tails you lose proposition’ which Title VII was intended to prevent and ‘which the law would be unlikely to countenance.’” 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Maine is required to abide by federal law and the First Amendment and cannot summarily dismiss employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots. In fact, Governor Mills must abide by federal law no matter what state regulation she creates.” 

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