Update: On Oct. 29, the Supreme Court declined to block Maine's vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
In October 2021, a collective of civil rights and religious organizations submitted a “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and (subsequently) to the United States Supreme Court in John Does v. Mills.
In this case, employees in Maine’s healthcare sector challenged a state-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate because it does not have a religious exemption. The mandate states that all personnel in ‘designated healthcare facilities’ must be fully vaccinated by October 29, 2021. The ACLU and ACLU of Maine oppose the inclusion of a religious exemption as it would undermine the national goal of protecting and strengthening public health and safety against COVID-19.
In our brief, we explain that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment which protects ones’ right to practice religion, does not include the liberty to expose others to a vaccine-preventable disease. We argue that claims of discrimination and disregard for safety are unfounded given that individuals can submit a medical exemption to their employer. The omission of a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate is necessary as a religious exemption could jeopardize existing legislation and future efforts to control preventable diseases.