SCOTUS decides not to block a coronavirus vaccine mandate that lacks a religious exemption

The U.S. Supreme Court just issued a concerning coronavirus-related decision.

Reports indicate that the justices of the High Court decided against stopping a coronavirus vaccine mandate that does not include a religious exemption from going into effect. 

The case

This lawsuit originates from Maine. There, Gov. Janet Mills (D) has issued a coronavirus mandate for the state’s health care workers that does not include a religious exemption.

The mandate has left some health care workers with having to choose between violating their religious beliefs by getting vaccinated and getting fired for refusing to get vaccinated. Many have simply decided to quit, and this has resulted in some health care worker shortages. But, most have complied with the mandate.

The non-profit Liberty Counsel, in response, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of health care workers who are arguing that the mandate is a violation of their Constitutional right to religious freedoms.

The Liberty Counsel has been trying to get the courts to stop Maine from enforcing the mandate. And, after losing at the lower court level, the Liberty Counsel filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

SCOTUS’s decision

The justices decided not to grant the emergency appeal. Two conservatives concurred, while three dissented.

The two who concurred were Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Bret Kavanaugh. They noted that there is a very high bar for emergency appeals and that the Liberty Counsel, in their eyes, failed to meet that threshold.

The three who dissented were Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. They argued that the Supreme Court should have taken the emergency appeal.

“Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course,” Gorsuch wrote. “There, healthcare workers 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. Their plight is worthy of our attention.

What now?

To be clear, the Supreme Court did not make any ruling on the actual merits of the case. The justices simply denied the emergency appeal. The Liberty Counsel now will try to get a hearing on the merits.

But, what this decision has done has left many wondering whether the Supreme Court would actually support a vaccine mandate without a religious exemption. The liberal justices and John Robert have made it pretty clear where they stand on the matter, but the concurrence of Barrett and Kavanaugh is concerning. It appears inevitable that the Supreme Court will have to weigh in on this issue at some point, as Maine is not the only state where such a mandate without a religious exemption has been issued, but it is unclear when.

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