RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Three musicians from the North Carolina Symphony filed a federal lawsuit last week against their former employer over their COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Dovid Friedlander, Christopher Caudill and Rachel Niketopoulos say they were fired for trying to exercise their freedom of religion.

Friedlander had taken a year off from the symphony during the pandemic and moved his family to Mexico. However, once he was ready to come back, the violinist said he was told he had to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I sent in all the forms they asked for. The religious accommodations form, and exemption letter I wrote out. I sent it to them. The next day, they denied me. They said I can’t come back and play,” said Friedlander.

Friedlander, Caudill and Niketopoulos filed a federal complaint Thursday against the symphony, its president, the CEO and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The three claim they could not get vaccinated without compromising their religious beliefs.

“In terms of what we’re pursuing — it’s back wages, punitive damages, lost compensation emotional suffering that has been caused by this decision. And, ultimately, reinstatement to the symphony to the orchestra,” said James Lawrence, the musicians’ attorney.

A spokeswoman from the North Carolina Symphony told CBS 17:

“Since the pandemic began, our priority has been to protect the health and safety of our musicians and staff, consistent with federal and state health guidelines and informed by the policies of other symphonies. That approach led us to implement a vaccination requirement and more recently to revisit and lift that requirement. Our policies and actions have been consistent with applicable law and we look forward to responding at the appropriate time in court.”