Health care workers challenge Rhode Island’s vaccine mandate

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Several people employed in Rhode Island’s health care industry have filed a federal challenge to the state’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers, alleging it is unconstitutional because it does not allow religious exemptions.

Employees of state-licensed health care facilities in the state are required to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or they risk losing their jobs. The state extended the deadline a month in certain cases where firing unvaccinated workers would compromise patient safety.

Most other states allow for religious exemptions, according to the suit.

“Rhode Island is not an island unto itself,” according to the complaint filed Thursday by attorney Joseph Larisa Jr. “If across America religious exemptions can be accommodated consistent with patient safety, then as a matter of law and logic, the same applies here.”

The four plaintiffs are identified in the lawsuit only by a single initial. They are described as a doctor; a nurse; a hospital clerk who attends medical school; and a health unit coordinator at a hospital.

One plaintiff was fired after requesting and being denied a religious exemption. The others face termination when the mandate takes effect.

The plaintiffs “wish to keep their identities anonymous to avoid harassment in the present environment,” the lawsuit says.

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the vaccine mandate on the grounds that it will lead to religious discrimination.

Spokespeople for Gov. Daniel McKee and the state Department of Health said they could not comment on pending litigation.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Rhode Island