New York can’t enforce mandate on vaccines for health care workers, federal judge rules

The state of New York has been temporarily barred from enforcing a vaccine mandate on its health care workers because the mandate doesn’t give an option for a religious exemption, The Hill reports.

According to The Hill, U.S. District Judge David Hurd issued an injunction against the New York State Department of Health blocking it from enforcing or otherwise requiring compliance with the mandate, and he set a preliminary hearing on the matter for Sept. 22.

Press Secretary to New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D), Hazel Crampton-Hays, said in a statement to The Hill that the governor is considering its legal options to handle the injunction.

“Requiring vaccination of healthcare workers is critical to this battle. This order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, but it temporarily bars the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate where individuals have claims for religious exemption. We are considering all of our legal options to keep our communities safe,” Crampton-Hays said.

Judge: Mandate violates Constitution

The injunction reportedly came after 17 New York health care workers sued the state, claiming that the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment and also the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.

They also argued that the mandate violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars the state from discriminating against employees based on religion, as The Hill explains.

Most vaccine mandates do have a religious exemption, but it has often been vaguely defined so that it could potentially be abused. Most religions do not prohibit vaccines from being used directly, but many Christians have said that the use of aborted fetuses in vaccine production goes against their beliefs.

The mandate adopted by the state health department in late August states that a medical exemption can be given in some cases, but not a religious one. The date for compliance with the mandate was set for Sept. 27 for hospitals and long-term care facilities, The Hill noted.

Overlapping orders

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) are named in the lawsuit along with Hochul.

The New York mandate overlaps with one by President Joe Biden that health care workers must get vaccinated, but Biden’s mandate does give a religious exemption.

According to WebMD, around 90 million Americans ages 12 and over have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, and most of them say they don’t plan to be.

Until recent months, most state officials and the federal government were reluctant to impose mandates, but the rise of the delta variant, with its approximately sixfold increase in transmissibility, has filled up hospitals in some areas and pushed the issue to the forefront.

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