Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks New York Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers with Religious Objections

On August 16, the governor of New York ordered all hospital workers in the state to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 27 or lose their jobs. Other healthcare workers in non-hospital facilities have until October 7 to comply. The state department of health issued an “emergency” regulation on August 26 reflecting the mandate’s requirements.

Some healthcare workers with religious objections to receiving the vaccine are pushing back in two separate lawsuits recently filed against the state, alleging that the vaccination mandate violates the Constitution as well as the federal employment law known as Title VII.

In response to one of the lawsuits, a federal judge issued a restraining order on September 14 blocking the mandate until the judge hears more evidence and conducts a hearing.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, represents the claims of 17 doctors, nurses and healthcare technicians, all of whom are represented by attorneys with the Thomas More Society, which also issued a press release announcing the filing.

“Never in the history of New York state, never in the history of the world, has a government sought to forcibly impose mass vaccination on an entire class of people under threat of immediate personal and professional destruction,” Christopher Ferrara, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, said in the press release. “This is just another example of how Covid regimes are completely out of control. The federal judiciary has a duty under the Constitution to put a straitjacket on this institutional insanity.”

In the second lawsuit, a group of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. They are represented by attorneys with Liberty Counsel, according to a press release from the organization.

“Though Governor Hochul’s announcement initially indicated that there would be ‘limited exceptions for workers with religious or medical reasons,’ the State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council eliminated an exemption and accommodation for religious reasons on August 26,” the press release states.  “In fact, under the state’s rule change, the only exemptions permitted in New York will be for medical reasons documented by a physician or certified nurse practitioner.”

A review of both court filings reveals a variety of religious objections to the mandate. Some of the plaintiffs are concerned with the vaccines developed using fetal cell lines obtained from abortions. Others are members of faiths that believe in healing through prayer.

All are concerned that New York has placed itself above the Constitution and federal law.

“The seminal issue before this Court can be boiled down to a simple question: Does federal law apply in New York? Though the question borders on the absurd, so does Defendants’ answer to it,” the Liberty Counsel suit alleges. “Defendants have explicitly claimed to healthcare workers in New York, including Plaintiffs, that federal law does not apply, and neither should they [apply for an exemption].”

The First Amendment’s religion clauses guarantee the “free exercise of religion.” Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion, and also requires employers with 15 or more employees to make a “reasonable accommodation” for an individual’s religious practices or beliefs unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations.

Both lawsuits ask for emergency relief in the form of injunctions preventing the state from enforcing its mandate against these healthcare professionals. The temporary restraining order granted in the one filed by the Thomas More Society case is exactly that – temporary. There will be court hearings in the near future in both cases, and we will continue to bring you updates on developments as they occur.

The cases are John Doe v. Hochul and Dr. A v. Hochul.

Related:

COVID-19 Vaccines: A Statement of the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family

Photo from Shutterstock.

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