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Americans United, ACLU & Allies: Supreme Court Should Not Mandate Religious Exemptions From Maine’s COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Maine and nine religious and interfaith organizations today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to protect public health and religious freedom by rejecting a request for harmful religious exemptions from a Maine requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an amicus brief filed today in the case Does 1-3 v. Janet Mills, the organizations explained:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court recently and repeatedly has reaffirmed that religious freedom does not give religious objectors “general immunity from secular laws.”
  • A long line of court decisions going back more than 100 years makes clear that the Constitution does not require religious exemptions from vaccination mandates.
  • The medical exemption in Maine’s law for people who cannot safely be vaccinated advances the law’s goal of protecting public health. Therefore, the existence of a medical exemption does not mean that the state must also grant religious exemptions. The brief cites examples of health care providers and other large employers in California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington State and Washington, D.C., where requests for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination requirements vastly outnumbered requests for medical exemptions – illustrating that religious exemptions are much more likely than medical exemptions to threaten public health and undermine the state’s goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director of Americans United: “Religious freedom is a fundamental right that ensures that we are all treated equally under the law and allowed to live as ourselves and believe as we choose – as long as we don’t harm others. Religious freedom doesn’t provide immunity from life-threatening diseases or from laws that are meant to protect everyone equally. The court should let Maine’s vaccination requirements stand because they protect health care workers and the vulnerable patients they serve.”

Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief: “Religious liberty is an essential constitutional right, but it doesn’t require states to offer religious exemptions that would jeopardize the health and lives of healthcare workers and their vulnerable patients.”

Emma Bond, legal director of ACLU of Maine: “Maine’s decision to mandate vaccination for frontline medical workers is an appropriate response to the highly infectious and deadly COVID-19 virus that has already wrought incalculable pain and loss to people in Maine. The First Circuit’s decision upholding Maine’s mandate was well-reasoned and should be left in place.”

The other organizations joining the brief are Disciples Center for Public Witness; Disciples Justice Action Network; Equal Partners in Faith; Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Methodist Federation for Social Action; National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; National Council of Jewish Women; and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

The amicus brief in Does 1-3 v. Mills is available here.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at au.org.

For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, we take up the toughest civil liberties fights. Beyond one person, party, or side — we the people dare to create a more perfect union. Learn more at aclu.org

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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