(The Center Square) – A group of health-care workers who sued Maine over Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate are appealing a federal judge's ruling tossing out the case.
A lawsuit, filed a year ago by the Florida-based Liberty Council, alleged that the vaccine requirement violates state and federal law by requiring vaccinations for health-care workers, without allowing a religious exemption for those who object.
The council's lawyers argued the case on behalf of medical workers with religious objections to the vaccines who were either fired or told they can't be employed by state-funded health care groups because they refuse to get jabbed.
In a ruling last month, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy rejected plaintifs' claims of discrimination, saying the vaccine mandate "aligns with the state’s interest in protecting public health."
"Exempting individuals whose health will be threatened if they receive a COVID-19 vaccine is an essential, constituent part of a reasoned public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Levy wrote in the ruling. "It does not express or suggest a discriminatory bias against religion."
But Liberty Council says it will be appealing the ruling to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, arguing that Levy's ruling "turns the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution on its head."
"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," Mat Staver, the group's founder and chairman, said in a statement. "Liberty Counsel will persevere on their behalf to fight this unlawful treatment."
Mills' executive order, which went into effect last October, required health-care workers to be fully vaccinated against the virus. The requirement includes health-care workers in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, firefighters, emergency medical service organizations and dental workers.
Only medical exemptions were allowed, not religious or philosophical.
Mills has said the new rules are needed to prevent further outbreaks as the state battles a resurgence of the virus that has contributed to a rise in new infections and hospitalizations. State health officials say a majority of the health-care workers were vaccinated.
The federal judge's dismissal of the Maine lawsuit came on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection earlier this year of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal health-care workers and a similar mandate for large companies. Maine was not one of the states that joined those legal challenges.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in the Maine legal challenge have until next month to file a legal brief outlining their request for an appeal.