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In this March 3, 2021, file photo, pharmacist Madeline Acquilano draws a syringe of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

'Religious Discrimination': Will Supreme Court Take Vax Mandate Case of Fired Health Care Workers?

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Five of Maine's largest healthcare providers may have to defend their actions in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after being accused of violating federal anti-discrimination laws while trying to comply with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills' controversial COVID-19 shot mandate. 

Liberty Counsel is representing Maine healthcare workers who were fired from their jobs after their religious exemptions were denied. The attorneys filed a reply brief asking the Supreme Court to review the case of Alicia Lowe, et al., v. Janet Mills, et al. 

The case, according to The Maine Wire, was last heard before the First Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. 

slider img 2Liberty's appeal requests a writ of certiorari which orders a lower court to deliver its case record so that the higher court may review it. The Supreme Court uses certiorari to select most of the cases it hears, according to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School. 

Liberty Counsel represents seven healthcare workers against five of the state's largest hospital systems which include: MaineHealth, Genesis Healthcare of Maine, MaineGeneral Health, and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center (the  "Providers").

Maine Law Over Federal Law? 

In its 20-page brief, Liberty Counsel argues the Providers have acted as if federal law does not apply in Maine by disregarding Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and denying all religious accommodations for the health care workers.

Despite the protections afforded by the federal Title VII law, Maine threatened healthcare employers with fines and loss of licensure if they granted even one person a religious accommodation for the COVID-19 shots. The Providers defended their violation of Title VII by arguing that the law in Maine prevented them from granting any religious exemptions from the COVID shots, the nonprofit law firm said. 

According to Liberty Counsel's petition, "The evidence of religious discrimination is evident in the record. The Court need only look at Respondents' own words." 

"Respondents inappropriately circumscribe the relevant Questions Presented to suggest that no conflict exists among the circuits. Yet, the First Circuit's decision permitted compliance with state law to justify noncompliance with federal antidiscrimination law," the brief contends. 

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer may disregard Title VII prohibition on religious discrimination on the basis of contrary state law. This ruling directly conflicts with decisions from the Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal, which ruled that directly conflicting state laws involving race, sex, and disability must yield to federal laws regarding discrimination requirements, Liberty Counsel argues in a press release. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver notes, that according to the U.S. Constitution, a state law does not supersede federal law. 

"Since there is now a conflict in the circuit courts regarding Title VII's nondiscrimination provisions and conflicting state law, Liberty Counsel is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review this case to resolve the conflict. It cannot be that a state law can take away a right granted by federal law," Staver said. 

"The federal law takes priority and employers cannot treat religious protections as an orphan. Federal law cannot be set aside," he added. 

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"Respondents knowingly and intentionally violated Title VII's nondiscrimination provision respecting religion by categorically refusing to
consider any religious accommodation. Their defense is that under state law, all religious discrimination requests must categorically be denied. Title VII expressly provides protection against religious discrimination. While not all religious discrimination claims must be accommodated, all such claims must at least be adequately considered," the nonprofit law firm argued in its brief. 

Liberty Counsel's brief also gave the court an example. When responding to a healthcare worker's request for a religious accommodation, MaineHealth reportedly stated: "You submitted a religious exemption, your request is unable to be evaluated due to a change in the law. Your options are to receive vaccination or provide documentation for a medical exemption to meet current requirements for continued employment."

MaineHealth admittedly refused to even consider or "evaluate" a religious accommodation request, the Maitland, Florida-based law firm said. 

Liberty Counsel's reply brief concluded with the words of sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch who noted in the case of Barber v. Colorado, Department of Revenue, federal law does "not yield to state laws that discriminate against {religion}; it works the other way around."

Only time will tell if the high court will choose to hear the case. In the Supreme Court, four justices must agree to accept the case before it is heard before the entire court. The average number of cases the high court agrees to hear each year is 80 out of 7,000 to 8,000 petitions, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of