A group of unvaccinated workers argued that the vaccine mandate violated their religious liberty rights.
The court’s right wing — Justice Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — dissented and would have halted the mandate while the appeals process plays out.
The court’s move is the latest instance in which the justices have turned away a request to halt a vaccine mandate and it comes as states are grappling with the delta variant.
Writing for his two conservative colleagues, Gorsuch pointed to the fact that “unlike comparable rules in most states,” Maine’s rule “contains no exemption for those whose sincerely held religious beliefs preclude them from accepting the vaccination” but it does have a medical exemption.
Gorsuch said that Maine’s decision to deny a religious exemption “borders on the irrational” and that the state had failed to present any evidence that granting the religious exemption “would threaten its stated public health interests any more than its medical exemption already does.” Health care workers behind the suit, “who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months, are now being fired and their practices shuttered” all for “adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”
He added: “Their plight is worthy of our attention.”
Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh voted with the majority to allow the mandate. In a brief statement, Barrett said that she decided against voting to grant such “extraordinary relief” in part because the case arose on the court’s emergency docket and the justices did not have the benefit of a full briefing and oral arguments.
Religious liberty issues
Over the last few months, the justices had declined invitations to strike down vaccine mandates at Indiana University and New York City schools, but the Maine dispute targeted religious liberty concerns.
The Maine vaccine mandate — that requires designated health care facilities, dental health providers and emergency services organizations to require that their employees to get the vaccine — went into force on Friday. The workers bringing the suit argued that it violates the Constitution and Title VII, federal civil rights law that bars employment discrimination based on religion. While Maine offers a limited exemption for some medical situations, it does not consider requests for religious objections.
“Maine has plainly singled out religious employees who decline vaccination for religious reasons for especially harsh treatment,” Mathew Staver, a lawyer for Liberty Counsel, representing the workers, wrote in court papers. At the same time, Staver said the …….