At least a dozen firefighters and state troopers in Clark County joined forces with workers from across the state in filing a complaint on Sept. 10
The separation of powers, right to privacy, and freedom of religion are at the heart of a recent lawsuit filed against Gov. Jay Inslee for his COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The governor’s mandate applies to all Washington state employees and contractors, public and private healthcare workers, and educators.
At least a dozen firefighters and state troopers in Clark County joined forces with workers from across the state in filing a complaint on Sept. 10, which alleges the mandate exceeds the governor’s legal authority and violates the rights of workers under the Washington State Constitution.
“These civil liberties issues affect every single person in the state of Washington, regardless of political opinion on any given topic,” said Nathan J. Arnold, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “This is not about the very real threat of COVID-19. This is not about being for or against vaccines. This is about the Governor ignoring the supreme law of the state, attempting to replace the representative legislature, and doing whatever he wants, contrary to laws put in place for pandemic response.”
Arnold represents a diverse group of workers facing termination of employment on Oct. 18 in light of the governor’s mandate. The punishment for non-compliance is “overly severe, punitive, and unconscionable,” according to the suit. “The penalty is further arbitrary and capricious where not tailored to those state employees with natural immunity by virtue of prior infection and/ or the ability to perform their duties from home.”
A forthcoming amendment to the complaint will add hundreds of similarly situated plaintiffs to the original 90.
Deprivation of the right to privacy and of religious freedom are outlined in the lawsuit, as well as the deprivation of life, liberty, or property as a “direct consequence of both the State’s inquiries on the religious questionnaire, which is not consistent with due process, and the Governor’s Mandate, which was not properly or legally enacted, and which is not consistent with due process.”
Mike Falk, spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, stated Wednesday, “We disagree and we look forward to litigating this in court when we respond.”
“It’s appropriate use of the governor’s emergency authority under extraordinary circumstances,” Falk added. “We don’t think it’s too much to ask public servants to help the public by being vaccinated.”
According to Arnold, the governor may only prohibit certain activities during a state of emergency, not create new laws in the absence of the legislature. He also may not discriminate against protected classes of people and infringe on First Amendment rights.
“We cannot have a terrible constitutional crisis on top of a terrible health crisis,” Arnold maintained. “We must protect our workers from this unlawful overreach.”
Jessica Hofer Wilkinson is a freelance writer, home educator and mother of four and nursing home chaplain. She resides in Clark County.