The Volokh Conspiracy

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Religion and the Law

Maine May Mandate Vaccines for Health Care Workers with No Religious Exemption (but with Medical Exemption)


So Judge Jon Levy (D. Me.) held today in Lowe v. Mills. An excerpt:

In this case, the amended complaint and the properly considered documents,  information, and facts before me show that the purpose of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers is solely to protect public health. Exempting individuals whose health will be threatened if they receive a COVID-19 vaccine is an essential, constituent part of a reasoned public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It does not express or suggest a discriminatory bias against religion.

In the context of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the medical exemption is rightly viewed as an essential facet of the vaccine's core purpose of protecting the health of patients and healthcare workers, including those who, for bona fide medical reasons, cannot be safely vaccinated. In addition, the vaccine mandate places an equal burden on all secular beliefs unrelated to protecting public health—for example, philosophical or politically-based objections to state-mandated vaccination requirements—to the same extent that it burdens religious beliefs.

Thus, the medical exemption available as to all mandatory vaccines required by Maine law does not reflect a value judgment unfairly favoring secular interests over religious interests. As an integral part of the vaccine requirement itself, the medical exemption for healthcare workers does not undermine the vaccine mandate's general applicability. The amended complaint does not plead any facts that plausibly support the conclusion that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not generally applicable. Because the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is both neutral and generally applicable, rational basis review applies.

The court also concludes that the mandate doesn't violate Title VII's duty of reasonable accommodation of religious objections; I may have more to say about that in a later post.