CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – More than 40 city employees, including dozens of first responders, have filed a lawsuit against the City of Charleston saying its COVID-19 vaccine requirement is unconstitutional.

The city announced in early September that all its employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-November.

In an email to city employees, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said the reason for the mandate was due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and because of the highly contagious Delta variant in the area.

Plaintiffs include a mix of city employees, volunteers, interns, temporary workers and outside vendors who say they want to “exercise control over their own medical treatment” and “are being forced to choose between their rights, privileges, and liberties as both citizens and employment, carriers, and financial futures.”

Court documents show the plaintiffs want an order declaring the policy unenforceable because it conflicts with the South Carolina Constitution’s guarantee of free expression, violates the state’s Home Rule Act, and DHEC’s General Supervision of Vaccination, Screening, and Immunizations.

Article I, Section 2 of the South Carolina Constitution states: “The General Assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government or any department thereof for a redress of grievances.”

“Plaintiffs are under the belief that the right to control their own medical destinies is both expressive speech in the form of opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, and expressive conduct in opposition to the vaccine mandate,” the lawsuit states.

Plaintiffs are asking for an order from the court prohibiting the city from enforcing its mandate until merits of the case can be determined and litigation is resolved.