Some 400 people gathered Friday afternoon outside the State House for a raucous rally protesting Governor Charlie Baker’s mandate that some 42,000 state employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October or risk losing their jobs.
During a slate of impassioned, oftentimes rambling speeches, speakers called the governor’s mandate unconstitutional, frequently invoking the Bible and, in some cases, threatening further action.
In accusing Baker of robbing citizens’ of their rights, one male speaker told the crowd, “We’re here to tell Governor Baker to give ‘em back, or we’re gonna take ‘em back.”
It wasn’t immediately clear who had organized the rally.
A woman who identified herself as a worker with the state Department of Correction said she’d lose her job rather than get the vaccine. Several people at the rally wore T-shirts that read “Massachusetts correction officers say no to mandatory vaccines.”
“You have no idea how badly so many of us are affected by this mandate,” she said.
“If they get our kids’ brains, we’re screwed,” said another speaker, who described herself as a vaccine researcher, adding that she had “five very healthy unvaccinated grown children.”
“I’ve never worn a mask this entire time” said one young mother, garnering loud cheers.
Added another female speaker: “It breaks my heart to see my nieces and nephews, and everyone else’s children, muzzled for no reason.”
Several of those in the crowd carried American flags and signs with messages like, “We will not comply,” “I do not consent,” and “My body my choice.” Off to the side of the State House steps, a woman stood at a table with a sign reading, “Let them fire you.”
Some of those present carried babies or young children. Almost no one wore a mask.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Friday’s demonstration.
Baker’s mandate applies to about 42,000 executive department employees and 2,000 contractors for executive department agencies, whether they are working in person or teleworking. Under the new requirement, state employees may be entitled to exemptions “due to medical disability or . . . a sincerely held religious belief,” according to an executive order signed by Baker in August.
“It’s very clear at this point that the vaccine is by far the most effective tool we have in our toolbox to make it possible for us to beat this thing,” Baker, a Republican, told reporters in August. “As the largest employer in Massachusetts, we felt it was important for us to step forward and make a statement about the value and the importance of getting vaccinated, and I certainly hope that many other employers will take a look at what we’re doing here and follow suit.”
Employees must prove vaccination status by Oct. 17 and the requirement will eventually include a booster shot, according to a news release from the Baker administration.
The order includes everyone from social workers to budget analysts to correction officers — and has drawn mixed reviews, including the threat of legal action, from the various unions that represent some of those workers.
At the federal level, President Biden last week mandated that all private employers nationwide with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing.
Material from the New York Times was used in this report. Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at email@example.com.