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South Dakota, Sioux Falls Catholic schools sue over federal vaccine, testing mandate

The state of South Dakota and the Sioux Falls Catholic school system have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over a new requirement that large companies enforce COVID-19 vaccinations or regular testing and masking of employees.

Vaccine mandates are a state, not federal issue, the lawsuit argues.

The lawsuit says the federal mandate will "cause injuries and hardship to working families, inflict economic disruption and staffing shortages on the states and private employers, and impose even greater strains on struggling labor markets and supply chains."

Kyle Groos, president of the Bishop O'Gorman Catholic Schools Governing Board, sent an email about the lawsuit to parents, staff and pastors.

"This case is simply about the government stepping in and telling Bishop O’Gorman how it must make its own personnel decisions," the FAQ says.

South Dakota, 10 other states and five private employers filed the lawsuit Friday morning with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. It asks the court to pause the new rules as the lawsuit proceeds.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday that private companies in the U.S. with 100 or more employees must make their workers get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or submit to testing and masking.

The rules would apply to more than 400 South Dakota businesses and about 115,000 workers. That includes the Sioux Falls Catholic school system because it has more than 100 workers.

The lawsuit says the Joe Biden administration flip-flopped on this issue since Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously said vaccine mandates are "not the role of the federal government."

The lawsuit argues the mandate is illegal since it's a post-hoc, or after-the-fact, rationalization for Biden's desired outcome.

OSHA did not independently identify a grave danger and respond by creating the mandate, the lawsuit says.

"Instead, the president dictated his preferred policy to
the agency in advance, and OSHA reverse-engineered a justification for that predetermined conclusion," the lawsuit says.

Sioux Falls' Bishop O'Gorman Catholic School system is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm and advocacy group.

Some Catholics are opposed to the vaccines because they were developed and/or tested on fetal cell lines, or cells grown in labs that descend from decades-old abortions. The vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells or tissue.

The Sioux Falls and Rapid City bishops previously came out in support of religious exemptions for the vaccine if a person's decision is based on a “sincere religious belief.”

The testing alternative to vaccination outlined by OSHA is not a reasonable accommodation, the school wrote on its FAQ about the lawsuit.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is also representing two national groups: The Christian Employers Alliance and Home School Legal Defense. It is not charging any fees to its clients.

The other private employers suing are a nonprofits arts group from Omaha and a trailer manufacturing company from Missouri.

The states on the lawsuit are South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Iowa, Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, Alaska and New Hampshire.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.