A nun, who is also a board-certified surgeon and retired U.S. Army colonel, has sued the District of Columbia for refusing to grant her a religious exemption to the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Sister Deidre “Dede” Byrne worked as a physician and served a tour in Afghanistan before becoming a nun. She now oversees and practices medicine inside a free clinic operated by the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and offers abortion pill reversals.
“Sister Dierdre has sought — and been denied — a religious exemption from DC’s health worker COVID-19 vaccination mandate,” said attorney Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society.
As a Roman Catholic, “she can have nothing to do with abortion-connected vaccines,” Ferrara told Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” Thursday night. Yet all three COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States have involved the use of cell lines derived from an abortion somewhere in the development or production process.
- Johnson & Johnson designed, developed, and produced its vaccine using the PER.C6, a cell line derived from an abortion performed in 1985; and
- Both Modern and Pfizer tested their vaccines on the HEK293 cell line, a line of fetal kidney cells derived from an abortion performed in 1973.
Although D.C. officials “conceded the sincerity of Sister Deidre’s religious objection to being vaccinated,” they denied her request and “have not granted a single request for religious exemption from the Vaccine Mandate,” according to a legal complaint filed on the nun’s behalf.
The sister says the city gave her five days to get vaccinated and, when she refused to comply, the city suspended her medical license.
“I’ve closed my clinics for the month. I can’t see patients. I just can’t help anyone,” Sister Dede told “The World Over” host Raymond Arroyo of EWTN. “I feel like I’m just a little tip of an arrow of so many people who are being forced to do the same thing.”
Ferrara says that officials dithered for six months in analyzing her petition for a religious exemption before turning her down on the grounds that “[g]ranting your request would create an undue hardship upon DC Health.” Ferrara says that gambit is legally untenable, because only an employer can cite an “undue burden,” and the nun does not work for the health department.
“This represents yet another example of the intersection of politics and bureaucratic intransigence, and religious liberty. And the result is a constitutional trainwreck,” he said.
Ferrara has sued Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, the director of the District of Columbia Department of Health, and the District itself to allow the sister to resume her medical ministry.
The city’s actions violate the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1993, he argues. RFRA bars the government from forcing anyone to violate his or her deeply held religious beliefs unless it can prove it is acting to further a “compelling government interest” and is using “the least restrictive means” possible.
Her attorneys say the city allowed her to volunteer her medical expertise during the height of the pandemic when no vaccine existed, and that she has natural immunity after having contracted the coronavirus.
In addition to her duties at the convent and its pro bono medical clinic, Sister Dede gained a national profile after she spoke about the right to life during the 2020 Republican National Convention. As The Daily Wire reported, Sister Dede told the RNC:
“As a physician, I can say, without hesitation, life begins at conception,” she said. “While what I have to say may be difficult for some to hear, I am saying it because I’m not just pro-life, I’m pro-eternal life, and I want all of us to end up in heaven together someday.”
“Which brings me to why I’m here today. Donald Trump is the most pro-life President that this nation has ever had, defending life at all stages,” she continued. “His belief in the sanctity of life transcends politics. President Trump will stand up against Biden-Harris, who are the most anti-life presidential ticket ever, even supporting the horrors of late-term abortion and infanticide.”
She went on to call the unborn “the largest marginalized group in the world.” “Followers of Christ,” she said, “are called to stand up for life against the politically correct or fashionable of today.”
Laura Ingraham offered the sister words of support and encouragement. “We need you out there serving this community and the D.C. area,” Ingraham told Sister Dede, an icon of Jesus peeking out from behind the nun’s right shoulder. “We’re going to be praying for you and for all those who are seeking exemption from these types of mandates.”