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Supreme Court rejects challenge from religious objectors to Maine COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to Maine's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers who wanted a religious exemption.

This is the second Supreme Court defeat for the unnamed plaintiffs after the court previously declined to grant a temporary injunction against Maine's vaccine mandate, which does not include any exemptions for religious objectors. The justices did not explain their decision in court papers.

The contested vaccine mandate went into effect in October, and at the time, major health care providers in the state said most workers consented to take the vaccine to keep their jobs, according to the Portland Press Herald. But nine unnamed workers sued the state in August because Maine would not permit hospital and nursing home workers to opt out of the mandate for religious reasons.

The plaintiffs' case has worked its way through the court system, appealing after defeats at the U.S. District Court of Maine, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, and finally the Supreme Court.

When the Supreme Court declined to issue an injunction against the vaccine mandate in October, Justices Gorsuch, Alito, and Thomas dissented. The court has also rejected challenges to other state vaccine mandates, including one brought by a group of Christian doctors against New York State.

In January, the justices voted 6-3 to block President Joe Biden's federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate on large businesses. The Biden administration sought, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to require businesses with more than 100 employees to have their workers vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19. The court ruled that OSHA had exceeded its authority, arguing that Congress did not pass legislation granting the agency broad power to regulate public health.

The court did however permit federal vaccine mandates for health care workers at medical facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments to stand, impacting as many as 76,000 health care facilities in the U.S. The Biden administration's vaccine mandate for federal workers also remains in effect. Those rules have medical and religious exemptions.

Maine law has required hospitals and other health care facilities to require vaccinations against various diseases since 1989, according to Reuters.

Governor Janet Mills (D) ordered that Maine health care workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October as a public health measure during the pandemic. The governor's emergency rule has since been replaced by a permanent regulation adding COVID-19 shots to the list of required vaccines, the state said in court papers.

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