Judge backs healthcare workers seeking religious exemption to COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Judge backs healthcare workers seeking religious exemption
to COVID-19 vaccine mandate 1

Health care workers in New York State who don’t want to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of religious concerns can continue to do so, under a preliminary injunction issued Tuesday by a federal judge.

Gov. Kathy Hochul 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 and treatment centers and home health aides.

Her administration — and many religious leaders — contend there is no religious requirement against getting vaccinated. Pope Francis, for example, has encouraged people to get the shots.

But 17 doctors, nurses and other health professionals have claimed in a lawsuit that their rights would be violated by a vaccine mandate that disallowed the religious exemption.

Judge David Hurd of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in Utica had issued a temporary restraining order a month ago supporting them, and on Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction also backing them. Hurd wrote that the health care workers suing the state were likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claim.

The injunction means New York will continue to be barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions.

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In similar cases other judges have issued opposite rulings. A federal judge in Brooklyn last month refused to issue any suspension of the state’s mandate.

In that case, which makes similar arguments to the one considered by Hurd, two Syosset Hospital nurses are objecting to the shots on religious-freedom grounds guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Religious leaders on Long Island generally are encouraging people to get the shots. The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has ordered all its clergy, employees, staff members of the bishop’s office and affiliated diocesan organizations to get vaccinated.

“It is clear to everyone paying attention that the only sure way to prevent the spread of the virus, and to ensure the pandemic’s end, is for everyone who is able to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” the Right Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of the diocese, wrote in a letter to parishioners in August.

“At present, the spread of the virus, even amongst those who have been vaccinated, is due to the fact that almost 50% of the population is still unvaccinated,” he wrote.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for Long Island’s Roman Catholic diocese, said in a statement that the “Diocese of Rockville Centre strongly encourages all clergy, religious and laity to consider vaccination against the COVID-19 disease. Consent to receive a vaccine must always be fully informed and voluntary.”

He added that “in considering vaccination against the COVID-19 disease, it is important to know that, although the available COVID-19 vaccines have a remote connection to abortion, the Catholic Church affirms that the use of these vaccines may be morally permissible under certain conditions. Therefore, we support one’s choice to receive a vaccine after careful consideration of the medical, moral and other personal implications.”

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