The Religious Sister Who Sued Washington DC Has Medical License Restored

Sister Dierdre Byrne sued Washington, D.C., for denying her a religious exemption to its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health care workers has received a temporary reprieve.

Newsroom (15/03/2022 11:12 AM Gaudium Press) Sister Dierdre Byrne, a nun who is also a physician-surgeon and a retired U.S. Army colonel, told news agencies that Washington officials notified her Friday March 11 2022 that her medical license would remain active until September.

Known by many as “Sister Dede,” she served in Afghanistan as an Army reservist. She is now a medical director at her convent’s free clinic, operates an abortion-pill reversal ministry, and volunteers with local hospitals and clinics to care for the indigent and undocumented in the US capital. Sister Dede describes her religious order — the Little Workers — as “a community that puts everyone between the hearts of Jesus and Mary, and we try to serve Our Lord in any ministry that God is calling us to do.”

In August 2021, Washington officials began requiring health care workers in the District of Columbia mandatory vaccination against the virus that causes COVID-19. The policy includes exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Sister Dede, noting that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States “have been tested, developed, or produced with cell lines derived from abortions,” objects to the city’s vaccine on religious grounds. Although both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is permissible, they have also insisted it is not morally required and generally should not be mandated.

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On September 17, 2021, Sister Dede applied for a religious exemption. Earlier this month, the religious sister learned that her request was denied and that her medical license was suspended. She received via email an unsigned letter from the District. Granting Sister Dede a religious exemption would pose an “undue hardship,” the letter stated. During the time between filing her request for an exemption and the city’s denial, she practiced medicine. 

However, not a single one of the hospitals and clinics where Sister Dede offered unpaid volunteer medical services for those in need expressed any objection.

Unable to continue her work of mercy with a suspended medical license, Sister Dede closed her clinic for the month. The Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on March 9, 2022, on behalf of Sister Dede, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, health department and other officials. The suit claims that Washington’s refusal to exempt Sister Dede from its vaccine mandate violates her fundamental right to the free exercise of her religion as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Friday’s letter notifying Sister Dede that her license was now active until September doesn’t resolve all of the issues raised in her lawsuit. Specifically, the letter states: “If at a later date the director finds that it is in the best interest of public health, the exemption granted to you may be rescinded.”

Sister Dede’s lawyer, Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society, remains concerned. Whether or not someone qualifies for a religious exemption, he said, has been replaced by a new standard: “You can practice until we say otherwise.”

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Thankfully, Sister Dede can once again see patients. But this is not the end of the story. Is Sister Dede being treated differently than the others who object to Washington’s mandate? If so, why? What exactly does the letter mean that she is able to practice unless it is not in the “best interest of public health”? Who decides? Sister Dede’s lawyers are preparing to discuss these issues and more with Washington’s attorneys on Monday.

(Via NCR)

Compiled by Raju Haksmuth

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