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.

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