Maine health care workers opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will take the same position a Texas federal court recently took on the Department of Defense’s obligation to approve religious exemptions for active-duty veterans.
In a brief filed on Jan. 11 on behalf of 2,000 health workers in the Pine Tree State, the national civil liberties organization Liberty Counsel argued that it’s discriminatory for hospitals to grant medical exemptions but not religious ones to health care workers opposed to taking the COVID shot.
“The folks that are getting medical exemptions comparably pose the same exact risk to the purported interest of the state—which is to slow down the spread of COVID-19,” Harry Mihet, chief litigation counsel for the Liberty Counsel, told The Epoch Times. “The virus doesn’t know whether a person is unvaccinated because of a religious reason or because of a medical reason.”
It’s the same argument that won a small group of U.S. Navy SEALs a victory in their argument before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas—that the military was engaging in unconstitutional double standards by granting nonsecular exemptions and not granting religious ones.
Judge Reed O’Connor agreed, writing in his order that “No matter how small the number of secular exemptions by comparison, any favorable treatment—in this case, deployability without medical disqualification—defeats neutrality.”
The Pentagon had argued that it was justified in granting medical exemptions while denying religious exemption requests because the number of medical exemption requests was smaller.
In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills ordered that health care workers be barred from obtaining a religious exemption from the vaccine while still allowing them to obtain medical exemptions.
The state, in defending the removal of the exemption, argued that religious exceptions were a moot point because the mandates didn’t apply to any specific religious group and were exclusively intended to protect against health care workers exposing patients to the virus.
Liberty Counsel filed its Supreme Court brief on the same day Mills asked for the dispatch of 169 members of the Maine National Guard to fill critical staff shortages at hospitals around Maine.
Mills blamed the critical shortage on the unvaccinated.
“I wish we did not have to take this step, but the rise in hospitalizations–caused primarily by those who are not vaccinated–is stretching the capacity of our healthcare system thin, jeopardizing care for Maine people, and putting increased strain on our already exhausted health care workers,” Mills said in a lengthy statement on the call for help to the National Guard.
Steve Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, issued a statement calling Mills’s decision to call in the National Guard “welcome news” to the state’s “beleaguered hospitals.”
“We are in the midst of the most difficult time of the entire pandemic for hospitals,” said Michaud.
Mihet said the shortage was, if anything, caused by the firing of what he estimated to be thousands of Maine health care workers for not complying with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
He pointed out that Mills has never provided any statistics to support her allegations that the unvaccinated are spreading COVID-19, adding that it’s more likely to be those who have had shots—given the governor’s own promotion of Maine having one of the highest vaccinated populations in the United States.
“This is a crisis of the governor’s making,” he told The Epoch Times.
According to the latest Maine CDC figures, 76 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Vermont and Rhode Island are the only two states that have slightly higher vaccination rates.
Maine also has a high number of health care workers vaccinated against the virus.
According to state CDC figures, 91.6 percent of hospital workers and 85.8 percent of nursing home employees were vaccinated by the end of September 2021.
Maine, New York, and Rhode Island are the only three states that don’t allow religious exemptions for health care workers from the COVID-19 vaccine.
The northern New England state has the “oldest” population in the United States. Of its 1.3 million residents, 21.8 percent are over the age of 65.
The state’s hospitals have been hit especially hard by a shortage of health care workers.
Two of its largest hospitals shut down or substantially scaled back their emergency room and urgent care services due to a lack of staffing to cope with the influx of COVID patients, most of whom were 65 and over.
Central Maine Healthcare, in announcing the closure of its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, specifically cited the resignation of health care workers over the vaccine mandate as the reason.
In northern Maine, several towns have recently reported a shortage of ambulance drivers and EMTs. Adding to the shortage is a recent record-breaking number of COVID-related hospitalizations.
Maine CDC recently reported the total number of cases at 159,498.