A group of unvaccinated Maine healthcare workers wants the Supreme Court to block the state's vaccine mandate because it violates religious liberty rights, CNN reported Tuesday.
The Maine mandate, set to take effect Oct. 29, says certain healthcare facilities must require that employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Although there's a limited exemption for some medical situations, requests for religious objections are not considered.
Justice Stephen Breyer declined to hear the Maine workers' emergency appeal last week "without prejudice," meaning the applicants were allowed to file another request.
"Maine has plainly singled out religious employees who decline vaccination for religious reasons for especially harsh treatment," Mathew Staver, attorney for Liberty Counsel, wrote in court papers.
However, the state has been "favoring and accommodating employees declining vaccination for secular, medical reasons," said Staver, who added that workers object to the vaccines because of the way that they were "developed, researched, tested, produced, or otherwise developmentally associated with fetal cell lines that originated in elective abortions."
The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were developed using aborted cell lines, though the final product does not contain fetal cells, CNN reported. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not manufactured from fetal cell lines, though testing used these cell lines.
The Supreme Court previously decided not to block vaccine mandates at Indiana University and New York City schools, CNN reported.
The Maine case recalls legal disputes early during the COVID-19 pandemic when the court ruled in favor of houses of worship in disputes stemming from state laws.
"Even in times of a crisis — perhaps especially in times of crisis — we have a duty to hold governments to the Constitution," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.
Maine workers argue that state mandate violates the Constitution and Title VII, a federal civil rights law that bars employment discrimination based on religion. Staver also noted that the state had been allowing religious objections before the spread of the delta variant.
"Since COVID-19 first arrived in Maine," Staver told the justices, his clients "have risen every morning donned their personal protective equipment, and fearlessly marched into hospitals, doctor's offices, emergency rooms and examination rooms with one goal: to provide quality healthcare to those suffering from [COVID]."
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey argued the mandate should stand because it was necessary to "prevent the spread of COVID" in high-risk places, and that it did not target religious freedom.
Frey said medical exemptions were necessary "because there are certain circumstances when vaccination may cause adverse health consequences, thereby actually harming that individual."
The attorney general also disagreed with Staver in saying that Maine did publish guidance explaining that the state rule does not prohibit employers from providing accommodations under Title VII.
Those guidelines said employers can allow employees to work remotely or reassign them to a facility not covered by the mandate.
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