Judge Temporarily Stops New York from Enforcing COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Against Health Care Workers with Religious Exemptions

A federal judge on Tuesday has agreed to temporarily bar New York from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate against health care professionals who hold religious objections. The state must allow employers to grant these workers religious exemptions while a lawsuit is pending.

In the opinion (PDF), the judge wrote:

“The question presented by this case is not whether plaintiffs and other individuals are entitled to a religious exemption from the State’s workplace vaccination requirement. Instead, the question is whether the State’s summary imposition of § 2.61 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.”

The same judge last month issued a temporary restraining order against the New York State Department of Health to stop the agency from enforcing vaccine mandates that deny religious exemptions.

Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the mandate in August. The group of 17 health workers allege that the mandate, which excluded religious exemptions, violates religious freedom protections under the Civil Rights of 1964 and the Supremacy Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Thomas More Society represents the group of health workers.

“With this decision the court rightly recognized that yesterday’s front line heroes’ in dealing with COVID cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy,” lead counsel Christopher Ferrara said. “Some of these plaintiffs contracted COVID while treating patients, recovered, and were allowed to return to work with the same protective measures that were good enough for the 18 months that they were the heroes in the battle against the virus. There is no ‘science’ to show that these same measures are suddenly inadequate – especially when they are allowed for those with medical exemptions.”

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