Judge throws out Maine lawsuit against COVID vaccine mandate

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FILE – A man receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Jabra Hospital in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, March 11, 2021. A new philanthropic project hopes to invest $100 million in up to 10 countries mostly in Africa by 2030 to support up to 200,000 community health workers. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali, File)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a complaint from a group of health care workers who said they were unfairly discriminated against by Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

The plaintiffs sued Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and other Maine officials along with a group of health care organizations in the state. The workers argued that the vaccine mandate violated their right to free exercise of religion because it did not provide an exemption for religious beliefs.

Jon Levy, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, wrote Thursday that the vaccine mandate was “rationally based” and that “no further analysis is required.”

“Reducing the number of unvaccinated healthcare workers at designated healthcare facilities in Maine is rationally related to the government’s interests in limiting the spread of COVID-19, safeguarding Maine’s healthcare capacity, and protecting the lives and health of Maine people,” Levy wrote.

The workers had remained anonymous since filing the suit until July, when a federal appeals court in Boston said they must reveal their identities. The workers also argued it was their religious right to decline the vaccine over the belief that fetal stem cells from abortions are used to develop them.

Liberty Counsel, a law firm representing the health care workers, said in a statement on Friday that it would appeal the dismissal. The firm said in a statement that Levy’s dismissal was “critically flawed” and “contrary to recent Supreme Court precedent involving COVID restrictions on places of worship and many other Supreme Court decisions.”

The vaccine mandate went into effect in October. The plaintiffs hoped to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear arguments in the suit earlier this year. The high court did not explain its decision at the time.

The lawsuit named some of the largest health care networks in the state as defendants. One of those networks, Northern Light Health, said in a statement on Friday that it had been validated by the court’s ruling.

“Our health care organization continues to strive always to act in the best interests of our patients and our staff in these challenging times, and we’re gratified that the court completely validated our conduct in this matter,” the statement said.

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