New York cannot prevent hospital and care workers from seeking religious exceptions to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Workers are required to be vaccinated without permission for such exclusions “conflicts with long -standing federal protection for religious beliefs,” Judge David Hurd of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of New York wrote. in his decision.
Ang policy requiring all hospital, home care and home care staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus was pre-issued under Cuomo’s supervision and allowed for both medical and religious exceptions. In late August, state health officials the provision was deleted allowing people to opt out based on religious beliefs —– a move supported by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
A team of 17 health care workers sued Hochul and members of his administration in policy last month. They said it violated their First Amendment Rights and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for employees ’religious beliefs. They first won an interim injunction preventing the state from interfering with health care providers ’ability to grant religious exemptions. After reviewing additional evidence submitted by both sides, Judge Hurd issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday effectively extending that injunction.
“It is clearly a decision that supports the Constitutional rights of medical workers that requests for religious exemption in the vaccination mandate have been denied by Governor Hochul and his administration,” Stephen Crampton, senior councilor for the Thomas More Society, the pro-life law firm representing the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement following the determination.
An appeal is likely. Hochul said he will work to bring back what was decided in an effort to promote public health.
“My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and ask health care workers to be vaccinated to realize that,” Hochul said in a statement Tuesday. “I stand behind this mandate, and I will oppose this decision in court to keep New Yorkers Safe.”
Most hospital staff and nurses are required to show evidence of their first shot of COVID-19 by Sept. 27, while home care workers are until Oct. 7. Employers have already begun care. of health to place those not in compliance with unpaid leave or firing them. SUNY Downstate Medical Center operations need to be temporarily canceled and other services while the order is in effect, and Northwell Health release 1,400 employees at the state vaccination mandate.
But some workers seeking religious exceptions remained in limbo. WNYC / Gothamist has reached out to several hospital systems for comment on how they handle religious exclusions in accordance with the latest decision.
Even if the decision is stuck, that doesn’t mean everyone seeking a religious exception will get one.
“One of the implications is there needs to be an opportunity for employees to request accommodation,” said Alicia Ouellette, president and dean of Albany Law School. “This does not mean the employee will take up residence or be required to accept the employer.”
The New York City vaccination mandate for Department of Education workers allows employees to seek religious exemptions. Many – but not all – of those requests were granted. Prior to the Sept. 27 vaccination deadline, the city had already approved more than 500 such requests, a DOE spokesman said at the time.
However, DOE staff seeking to block the court order after it takes effect claimed the city was “openly hostile” to the people’s religious beliefs. A federal judge in Manhattan said at a hearing in the case Tuesday there was no evidence of such hostility and refused to give request of the plaintiffs. DOE staff that have been granted exceptions so far represent more than 20 different religions, Lora Minicucci, an attorney for the city, said at the hearing.
No major religion has said that people should not be vaccinated against COVID-19. But plaintiffs in the case challenging the state order say they sincerely hold religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines currently available.