Federal judge rules New York must provide religious exemptions for vaccine mandate

By Bryan Babb

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that New York state must recognize healthcare workers’ religious exemptions to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd ruled on Tuesday that the mandate conflicts with “individuals’ federally protected right to seek a religious accommodation from their individual employers,” granting a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs, according to court documents. In response to the vaccination mandate, 17 anonymous healthcare workers filed a lawsuit challenging the New York State Department of Health.

Hurd also placed limitations on the New York State Department of Health, stating that it “is barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted,” court documents show.

The ruling follows Gov. Kathy Hochul’s statement denying the legitimacy of religious exemptions during a briefing on Sept. 27. She stated that “There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions have said there’s no legitimate reason,” and that “we’re going to win that in court in a matter of days.”

Following the implementation of the mandate on Sept. 28, thousands of New York healthcare workers who refused to get vaccinated lost their jobs.

“With this decision, the court rightly recognized that yesterday’s ‘front line heroes’ in dealing with COVID-19 cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy,” said Christopher Ferrara, a lawyer from the Thomas More Society representing New York state healthcare workers, The New York Times reported.

“My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement on Tuesday in reaction to Hurd’s ruling.

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