In Jane Does 1-6 v. Mills, (D ME, Oct. 13, 2021), a Maine federal district court rejected claims by health care employees that Maine violated their free exercise rights when it eliminated religious exemptions from its COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers. The court, denying a preliminary injunction, said in part:
Here, the Rule does not compel the Plaintiffs to be vaccinated against their will, and the Plaintiffs have, in fact, freely exercised their religious beliefs by declining to be vaccinated. This is not to minimize the seriousness of the indirect consequences of the Plaintiffs’ refusal to be vaccinated, as it affects their employment. Nonetheless, the Rule has not prevented the Plaintiffs from staying true to their professed religious beliefs….
The medical exemption at issue here was adopted to protect persons whose health may be jeopardized by receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. The exemption is rightly viewed as an essential facet of the vaccine’s core purpose of protecting the health of patients and healthcare workers, including those who, for bona fide medical reasons, cannot be safely vaccinated. Because the medical exemption serves the core purpose of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, it does not reflect a value judgment prioritizing a purely secular interest …—over religious interests.
In addition, the vaccine mandate places an equal burden on all secular beliefs unrelated to protecting public health—for example, philosophical or politically-based objections to state-mandated vaccination requirements—to the same extent that it burdens religious beliefs….
The court rejected plaintiffs’ Title VII failure to accommodate claim by concluding that plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies.