Fight Over Mills’ Vax Mandate for Health Care Workers Lingers

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Opponents of Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 vaccination mandate for Maine health care workers are vowing to continue fighting the policy, even if it means arguing the case before the Supreme Court, the same court that has twice thwarted attempts to halt or challenge the mandate.

Liberty Counsel, a non-profit that litigates in defense of religious liberty and is representing several plaintiffs in Maine, thinks the tide is turning against mandates as governments and other organizations increasingly back away from mandates and restore fired employees.

“Those who enforced vaccination mandates in Maine or in any place should be very concerned,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman at Liberty Counsel.

“The new information coming out about the vaccines, the court decisions coming down elsewhere, help us in Maine,” he said.

Last week, a judge ruled that New York City had to reinstate unvaccinated workers who were fired for refusing to comply with mandates. The city is appealing the ruling, which would also require them to issue back pay to workers.

In his ruling, Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio specifically noted that the vaccine does nothing to prevent an individual from catching or spreading the virus.

“Being vaccinated does not prevent an individual from contracting or transmitting Covid-19,” wrote Porzio.

On Tuesday, New York City ended a vaccination mandate it had been imposing on private sector businesses. A mandate that New York City students who participate in public school extracurricular activities get the shot also ended.

In Washington, D.C., the city council is reportedly considering scrapping the vaccine mandate for school kids.

Staver said these cases are an indication of where all vaccination mandate litigation is heading.

“Every win creates another brick in the wall that we can use to continue to rebuild our freedoms,” he said.

He estimates up to 2,000 Mainers were fired or left their jobs voluntarily as a direct results of Mills’ mandate.

An application for injunctive relief filed on behalf of Maine health care workers with the Supreme Court was denied by Justices Amy Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh on October 29, 2021. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented, pointing to the lack of religious exemptions under the mandate.

“Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course,” Gorsuch wrote. “There, healthcare workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”

“Their plight is worthy of our attention,” he wrote. “I would grant relief.”

The Court declined to hear Liberty Counsel’s arguments in February and, in August, Jon Levy, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, dismissed a discrimination suit against Mills and Maine health care officials.

Staver remains hopeful his plaintiffs will eventually prevail over the Maine mandate, citing a recent case in Illinois where a large healthcare provider lost a class action suit.

The Evanston-based NorthShore University Health System agreed to pay $10.3 million to workers who alleged they were discriminated against by the system’s vaccine mandate. Like Maine, the health care provider did not allow for religious exemptions. More than 500 current or former employees will be eligible for payments from the fund.

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