Maine has required health care workers to be vaccinated against various contagious diseases since 1989, and eliminated exemptions on religious or philosophical grounds under a state law enacted in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began. The state does exempt workers for whom the given vaccine would be “medically inadvisable” in the judgment of a health care professional.
The 2019 law was the subject of a referendum, with about 73 percent of the state’s voters approving it.
The state included a coronavirus vaccine among the required vaccinations in a regulation issued in August, setting a deadline of Oct. 29. Several health care workers sued, saying the requirement violated their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.
Judge Jon D. Levy of the Federal District Court in Maine ruled against the plaintiffs.
“Both the serious risk of illness and death associated with the spread of the Covid-19 virus and the efforts by state and local governments to reduce that risk have burdened most aspects of modern life,” he wrote.
The plaintiffs’ “refusal to be vaccinated based on their religious beliefs has resulted or will result in real hardships as it relates to their jobs,” Judge Levy wrote. “They have not, however, been prevented from staying true to their professed religious beliefs which, they claim, compel them to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19.”
A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, affirmed Judge Levy’s ruling.