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Judge Protects Religious Vaccine Exemption for NY Health Care Workers, Court Battle to Unfold Next Week

10-13-2021
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New York health care workers will be able to seek religious exemptions from a statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate as a lawsuit challenging the requirement proceeds, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

As CBN News reported, Judge David Hurd in Utica had issued a temporary restraining order a month ago after 17 doctors, nurses, and other health professionals claimed in a lawsuit that their rights would be violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed religious exemptions.

Hurd's preliminary injunction Tuesday means New York will continue to be barred from forcing employers to deny religious exemptions. And the state cannot revoke exemptions already granted.

The court also ruled that state health officials are "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."

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will fight the decision in court. "My responsibility as governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that," she said in a prepared statement.

State health officials said that as of Tuesday, facilities reported 7,070 hospital workers, or 1.4% of total employees, had claimed a non-medical exemption, as did 2,636 nursing home workers, or 1.8% of employees.

Hurd wrote that the health care workers suing the state were likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claim. The question presented in this case, he wrote, is whether the mandate "conflicts with plaintiffs' and other individuals' federally protected right to seek a religious accommodation from their individual employers. The answer to this question is clearly yes."

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, filed a separate lawsuit in New York last month on behalf of more than 1,500 health care workers against Gov. Hochul, Dr. Zucker, Trinity Health, Inc., New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc., and Westchester Medical Center Advanced Physician Services, P.C., to protect those employed by private employers who attempt to remove religious exemptions from the shot mandate. 

The hearing for the case is set for Tuesday, Oct. 19. 

As CBN News reported, New York set a deadline for all healthcare workers in the state to get vaccinated if they wanted to keep their current positions.

In August, a mandate was issued that all employees at hospitals and long-term care facilities across New York get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination by September 27.

Since the mandate was announced, many medical professionals have resigned their positions in protest.

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