Religious organization sues Mills, Shah and others over health care vaccine mandate

Liberty Counsel, a national religious organization, filed suit Wednesday against Maine Gov. Janet Mills, members of administration, and Maine health care providers

Author: Zach Blanchard (NEWS CENTER Maine), Beth Brogan (NEWS CENTER Maine)

Published: 9:03 PM EDT August 25, 2021 | Updated: 9:02 PM EDT August 25, 2021

MAINE, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills and several of Maine’s largest health care organizations are facing a lawsuit from the Liberty Counsel over the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The national religious organization said Wednesday it is representing more than 2,000 health care workers statewide in fighting the requirement that they get the COVID-19 vaccine or lose their jobs.

According to court documents filed this week, the civil suit names Gov. Mills, Dept. of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. It also names MaineHealth, Genesis Healthcare of Maine, Northern Light Health Foundation, and MaineGeneral Health. 

The legal action comes as the deadline to get shots is approaching in order to adhere to the governor’s mandate goes into effect Oct. 1.

Under the governor’s mandate, health care workers are required to get the shot with the only medical exemptions, not religious ones. The lawsuit alleges that is “unlawful.”

“There can be no dispute that Maine is required to abide by federal law and provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID 19 shots,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement Wednesday.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey spoke out against the lawsuit Wednesday evening saying getting vaccinated is “simple and commonsense.”

“The requirement in Maine that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 is based on a determination by public health experts that it is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 in health care facilities and to protect Maine’s health care system,” Frey said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine. “We will vigorously defend the requirement against this lawsuit and we are confident that it will be upheld.” 

Frey added that the state has required health care workers to be vaccinated against other diseases for years without challenge. He also noted recent instances he believes have set precedent. 

“Federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have consistently upheld mandatory vaccination requirements. Most recently, Justice Amy Coney Barrett refused to enjoin Indiana University’s requirement that students be vaccinated against COVID-19. Lower federal courts had previously upheld the constitutionality of the requirement,” Frey said.

Despite a surge in cases tied to the Delta variant across the state, anti-vaccine activists’ have only strengthened their opposition.

The Liberty Counsel filed a motion for a temporary restraining order. A hearing is set for 10 a.m. Thursday in U.S. District Court. 

The organization also represented Calvary Baptist Church in Orrington in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Gov. Mills from enforcing or reinstating any future pandemic-related restrictions. The court declined to hear the case.

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