NY health care workers will no longer have religious exemptions to vaccine mandate, court rules

New York State health care workers will no longer have a religious exemption to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate after a federal appeals court vacated a temporary injunction Friday.

The three-judge panel in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also sent the two court cases back to the lower courts to continue.

The ongoing court cases stem from former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order that all hospital and long-term care facility workers were required to get at least one dose of the vaccine by September 27.

CNN has reached out to the New York State Department of Health for comment, and details of how many exemptions the state has already provided.

An attorney for plaintiffs in one of the cases vowed to take the case to the US Supreme Court Friday.

“New York’s mandate forces an abominable choice on New York healthcare workers: abandon their faith or lose their careers,” said attorney Cameron Atkinson, who represents three nurses. “They have committed their futures to God’s hands, and we remain optimistic that the United States Supreme Court will strike down New York’s discriminatory mandate as violating the First Amendment.”

In the second case, 17 health care workers, many of them unnamed doctors, residents and nurses, filed a lawsuit last month objecting to the New York State Department of Health’s vaccine mandate, which didn’t allow for religious exemptions. A judge issued a temporary restraining order on September 14 related to the religious exemptions.

CNN reached out to an attorney representing these health care workers for reaction.

Gov. Kathy Hochul praised the court’s decision.

“On Day One, I pledged as Governor to battle this pandemic and take bold action to protect the health of all New Yorkers,” Hochul said in a statement. “I commend the Second Circuit’s findings affirming our first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Religious exemptions granted to almost 16,000 workers before ruling, official said

Nearly 16,000 health care employees in New York State have been granted religious exemptions by their employers prior to Friday’s court ruling, the state’s health department confirmed to CNN Friday night.

That’s 15,844 employees of hospitals, nursing homes, adult homes, Certified Home Health Agencies (CHHA), Licensed Home Care Service Agencies (LHCSA) and hospice facilities, said Jeffrey Hammond, deputy director of communications for the New York State Department of Health.

Hammond provided a

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Religious Vaccine Exemption Stays for NY Health Care Workers | New York News

By MICHAEL HILL, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — 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.

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 enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions. And the state cannot revoke exemptions already granted.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will fight the decision in court “to keep New Yorkers safe.”

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“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, Hurd 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.”

“This is clearly just a ridiculous government overreach,” said Christopher Ferrara, the Thomas More Society special counsel who represented the plaintiffs. “You can’t do this to people. You can’t call them heroes one day and then throw them out on the sidewalk the next day.”

Hochul’s administration began requiring workers at hospitals and nursing homes to be vaccinated on Sept. 27 and more recently expanded the requirement to include workers at assisted living homes, hospice care, treatment centers and home health aides.

The plaintiffs, all Christians, oppose as a matter of religious conviction any medical cooperation in abortion, including the use of vaccines linked to fetal cell lines in testing, development or production, according to court papers.

Several types of cell lines created decades ago using fetal tissue exist and are widely used in medical manufacturing, but the cells in them today are clones of the early cells, not the original tissue.

The COVID-19

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