Judge rules NY must allow religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccine mandate for medical workers

By Denis Slattery

ALBANY — A federal judge dealt a blow to Gov. Hochul’s vaccine mandate for medical workers, ruling Tuesday that New York must allow religious exemptions to the state’s COVID-19 immunization requirement.

Justice David Hurd of the Northern District in Utica granted a preliminary injunction temporarily barring the state and employers from enforcing the vaccine mandate against health care workers who claim a legitimate religious exemption.

Hurd had already issued a temporary restraining order last month order after 17 doctors, nurses and other health professionals filed a lawsuit claiming their rights would be violated by the mandate without an exemption.

New York began requiring all hospital and nursing home workers to be vaccinated against coronavirus starting on Sept. 27. Hochul last week expanded the edict to include workers at assisted-living facilities, hospice care, treatment centers, as well as home health aides.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially instituted the mandate back in August, but his version allowed for religious exemptions. Under Hochul, the state Department of Health amended the order and did away with the exemption.

The plaintiffs in the case argue that they oppose taking the shots due to the vaccines’ connections to aborted fetal cells, despite none of the available immunizations containing such tissue.

Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna all used laboratory-grown cells based on aborted fetal cells collected decades ago in manufacturing and testing their COVID-19 vaccines.

Hurd noted that the constitutional question in the suit is simply 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,” he wrote.

Hochul indicated that the state will seek to appeal the decision.

“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 statement. “I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe.”

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