After he sued Washington, DC, a stay was granted, but that doesn’t resolve all of the issues raised in his lawsuit.
The nun who sued Washington, DC, for denying her a religious exemption to her COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers has been granted a temporary reprieve. Sister Diedre Byrne, a nun who is also a physician-surgeon and a retired U.S. Army colonel, told the Register that Washington officials informed her on Friday that her medical license would remain active until September.
Known to many as “Sister Dede”, she served in Afghanistan as an army reservist before joining the Sisters of the Little Workers of the Sacred Heart. She is now the medical director of her convent’s free clinic, runs an abortion pill reversal ministry, and volunteers at local hospitals and clinics to care for the indigent and undocumented in our nation’s capital. . Sister Dédé describes her religious order – the Little Workers – as “a community that puts everyone between the ears of Jesus and Mary, and we try to serve Our Lord in whatever ministry God calls us to do.”
Last August, Washington officials began requiring district health care workers to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. The policy includes exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Sister Dede, noting that the three vaccines approved for use in the United States “have been tested, developed, or produced with cell lines derived from abortions,” opposes the city’s vaccine on religious grounds. Although the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have both stated that it is permissible to receive a vaccine against COVID-19, they have also insisted that it is not was not morally required and generally should not be obligatory.
On September 17, Sister Dédé requested a religious exemption. Earlier this month, the nun learned that her application had been denied and her medical license had been suspended. She received an unsigned letter from the District via email. Granting Sister Dede a religious exemption would pose an “undue hardship,” the letter said. Between the filing of her request for exemption and the refusal of the city, she practiced medicine. None of the hospitals and clinics where Sister Dede provided unpaid volunteer medical services to those in need expressed any objection, she told the Register.
Unable to continue her work of mercy with a suspended medical license, Sister Dédé closed her clinic for a month. As EWTN’s first report on World Over, the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on March 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Sister Dede against Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Department of health and other officials. The lawsuit says Washington’s refusal to exempt Sister Dede from her vaccination mandate violates her fundamental right to free exercise of her religion, protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Friday’s letter informing Sister Dede that her license was now active until September does not resolve all of the issues raised in her lawsuit. Specifically, the letter to states: “If at a later date the Director concludes that it is in the best interest of public health, the exemption granted to you may be rescinded. Sister Dédé’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.”
Fortunately, Sister Dédé can see patients again. But that’s not the end of the story. Is Sister Dede treated differently from others who oppose the Washington mandate? If yes, why? What exactly does the letter mean that she is able to practice unless it is not in the “best interest of the public”? Who’s deciding ?
Sister Dede’s attorneys are preparing to discuss these issues and more with Washington attorneys on Monday. Meanwhile, Sister Dede told the Register that she plans to reopen the medical clinic and that surgeries are scheduled for the coming week. For Sister Dede, there is a sense of relief that she can practice now, but she continues to sound the alarm for other doctors and nurses she knows with similar religious objections to the vaccine. Sister Dede said, “I really don’t want this to be my own little battle.