Fed Judge: NY Vaccine Rule Must Allow for Religious Exemptions

Fed Judge: NY Vaccine Rule Must Allow for Religious Exemptions nurse gives man shot in arm (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

By Fran Beyer | Tuesday, 14 September 2021 02:23 PM

A federal judge Tuesday temporarily blocked New York state officials from imposing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement on healthcare workers who claim the shot violates their religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd in Albany, N.Y., entered a temporary restraining order from enforcing a state Department of Health rule, Bloomberg reported.

The order came in the case of 17 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, who claimed in a lawsuit Monday that their rights were violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed the exemptions.

Lawyers for the Thomas More Society called the state's health worker vaccine mandates "patently unconstitutional" and an attempt "to nullify protections for sincere religious beliefs granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

"What New York is attempting to do is slam shut an escape hatch from an unconstitutional vaccine mandate," Thomas More Society special counsel Christopher Ferrara wrote in a statement. "And they are doing this while, knowing that many people have sincere religious objections to vaccines that were tested, developed, or produced with cell lines derived from aborted children."

The judge gave New York state until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit in federal court in Utica.

The state issued the order Aug. 28, requiring at least a first shot for health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes by Sept. 27.

Officials in rural counties of upstate New York have raised concerns with the vaccine rule for health care workers over worries the requirement would lead to resignations of those in key jobs in health care networks, Spectrum News 1 reported.

State GOP Sen. Pam Helming was among those who have warned that the vaccine mandate should be reconsidered anyway due to the workforce implications, Finger Lakes 1 reported.

"I have heard from administrators, nurses, clinical support staff, and other employees working for our Upstate area hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities about the devastating impact this mandate is already having on staffing levels," she told the news outlet.

"Rural communities in particular, like those I represent, have already been dealing with significant staffing shortages. This mandate will only make this problem worse," Helming said.

"I have received similar feedback from area nursing homes. One Monroe County nursing home shared that they currently have 90 openings; they are predicting a loss of an additional 50-75 employees once the vaccine mandate takes effect," she continued.

"A local assisted living facility owner called to express his concern; he anticipates losing 50% of his staff. A senior living center director is losing almost half of his housekeeping staff who have chosen not to get the vaccine for religious reasons; these workers are applying for open school bus driver positions so they have access to a testing alternative."

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who announced the vaccine mandate, did not immediately respond to the order.