A federal judge in New York ruled on Tuesday that religious exemptions for health care workers must be upheld in spite of the state’s sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Then-Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the mandate in August.
The governor’s office said on Aug. 16 that “all healthcare workers in New York State, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities… including nursing homes, adult care, and other congregate care settings, will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, September 27.”
“When COVID ambushed New York last year, New Yorkers acted, while the Federal Government denied the problem,” Cuomo said at the time. “Now, the Delta variant is spreading across the nation and across New York …”
“Our healthcare heroes led the battle against the virus, and now we need them to lead the battle between the variant and the vaccine.
“I have strongly urged private businesses to implement vaccinated-only admission policies, and school districts to mandate vaccinations for teachers. Neither will occur without the state legally mandating the actions — private businesses will not enforce a vaccine mandate unless it’s the law, and local school districts will be hesitant to make these challenging decisions without legal direction.”
Health care workers filed a lawsuit over the mandate, which led to Tuesday’s ruling that religious exemptions must be allowed, Spectrum News reported.
U.S. District Judge David Hurd of the Northern District of New York, in a 27-page ruling, banned any retaliation by state health officials against health care workers who do not want to be vaccinated due to religious reasons.
“The Department of Health is barred from taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against the licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges or other professional status or qualification of any of the plaintiffs on account of their seeking or having obtained a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination,” Hurd said in his decision.
The ruling also protects companies from facing any punishment from the state for employing unvaccinated health care workers who do receive an exemption.
The lawsuit against the state was led by 17 health anonymous care professionals, WROC-TV reported.
It argued that “[p]laintiffs hold the sincere religious belief that they ‘cannot consent to be inoculated … with vaccines that were tested, developed or produced with fetal cell[ ] line[s] derived from procured abortions.’”
Melanie Franco, the attorney for the plaintiffs, commented on the lawsuit in September.
“Health care workers could still get medical exemptions, but not religious exemptions. Their arguments are that it goes against not only the constitution but also the New York State Human Rights Law,” Franco said, according to WROC.
The outlet reported that Hurd said he would welcome an appeal to his decision in favor of the state’s health care workers.
“[The ruling has] nothing to do with how an individual employer should handle an individual employee’s religious objection to a workplace vaccination requirement. But they have everything to do with the proper division of federal and state power,” the judge said.
“Because the issues in dispute are of exceptional importance to the health and the religious freedoms of our citizens, an appeal may very well be appropriate,” he said.
Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, as was state Attorney General Letitia James.
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