The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, Oct. 29, rejected an emergency petition filed by Maine state health care workers seeking a religious exemption to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
According to the state mandate, health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes across the state will lose their jobs if they choose not to be vaccinated. This situation has led them to pursue a legal race that has reached the Supreme Court.
The critical point on which health care workers and defense attorneys in Maine are relying is that they are being pressured to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under threat of being fired and that religious exemptions are not being respected, Fox News reported.
Lawyers for the health care workers who challenged the vaccine mandate in Maine argued that not having a religious exemption was a violation of their right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The emergency appeal was rejected, but the legal battle did not end there. Instead, it appears to have just begun. The highest court’s decision means that the lawsuit must first be debated in the lower courts, and if no agreement is reached, it may again go to the Supreme Court, where the case will eventually be resolved.
The court’s decision not to grant immediate relief for the health care workers until it reviews the case means that the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate will go into effect while litigation continues in the lower courts.
As is customary in emergency rulings, the Court did not argue its decision. However, three conservative-leaning justices issued a dissenting opinion stating that they would have granted the emergency request.
Three justices, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, signed a brief authored by Gorsuch, suggesting they would have adhered to the Maine health care workers’ request.
“This case presents an important constitutional question, a serious error, and an irreparable injury,” Gorsuch wrote. “Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course. There, healthcare workers who have served on the front line of the pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”
The deadline for health care workers to be vaccinated in the state was the beginning of October, but the state government communicated that it would not enforce the mandate until Friday, Oct. 29, when the court would rule.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills ordered mandatory vaccinations in Maine. Faced with a lawsuit, a federal judge in Maine refused to stop the mandate, concluding that a lawsuit was unlikely to succeed.
Later, in early October, a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals let the ruling stand, prompting a flurry of appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court.