Religious Exemptions to Vaccine Mandates Tested in New York Case

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Pending decisions could help shape whether states should allow religious objections to COVID-19 vaccination in and outside hospital settings

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Thousands of healthcare workers who refused vaccination lost their jobs across the state when the mandate took effect, prompting hospitals to cancel elective surgeries and closing operating rooms and outpatient clinics. Many nursing homes have stopped admitting new patients.

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Workers filed several lawsuits last month to challenge the mandate before it took effect. Seventeen health workers, represented by the Thomas More Society, a legal group advocating for religious freedom, said being forced to take the vaccine would violate their religious beliefs.

On September 14, U.S. District Judge David Hurd in Utica, NY, issued a restraining order preventing the state from approving a facility that honored religious-exemption requests. Judge Hurd said he would decide whether to convert the temporary restraining order into an injunction by October 12.

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Many health workers who sought religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate said they were Christians who believed their bodies were sacred and that they avoided pharmacological intervention. Others, including the plaintiffs in the Utica case, said they were Christians who opposed abortion and would not take available COVID-19 vaccines because they were developed using fetal tissue.

Cell lines derived from embryonic tissue, often abrogated decades ago, are routinely used in medical research, including the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines available in the US. Diseases including polio, chickenpox, hepatitis A and shingles.

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Bishop of New York said the Vatican has determined that in the absence of morally irreversible COVID-19 vaccines, it is morally acceptable to receive existing COVID-19 vaccines. The spokesman said that Pope Francis has said, “I believe that morally everyone should be vaccinated.”

The judge’s order did not bind specific employers, and hospital systems have taken different approaches since then. Some have fired people seeking religious exemptions, while others have placed them on the payroll, often with additional testing requirements.

The state health department said on Wednesday that 7,019 hospital workers and 2,934 nursing home workers have applied for non-medical exemptions. A spokesperson declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.

A similar lawsuit is pending in Rhode Island, which does not allow religious exemptions in its vaccine mandate. On September 30, US District Judge Mary McElroy denied several health workers’ requests to restrain the state health department from forcing employers to deny religious exemptions.

New York’s mandate applies to more than 665,000 employees of hospitals and nursing homes. When it took effect on September 27, 92% of employees in those facilities were vaccinated – and state data shows that vaccination rates among affected workers have been faster than the general population since the mandate was announced in August. has grown from

Christopher Ferrara, an attorney for the Thomas More Society, said the state would violate the First Amendment right to religious expression if it allowed a medical exemption, which he described as secular, without offering a comparable religious exemption. He cited an April 2021 Supreme Court decision that temporarily halted pandemic restrictions on the size of at-home religious gatherings in California.

Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the California case is one of several recent Supreme Court rulings that expanded protections for religious freedom, and she hopes that the cases arising from the state’s vaccine mandate will be a Can set a national example.

Ms Franke said the cases question how to balance various constitutional rights, and also highlight that concerns about threats to public health are secondary to perceived threats to religious freedom by the court. Has been observed.

State lawyers argued that the mandate was in line with longstanding vaccination requirements for health workers that do not allow religious exemptions. He said vaccination is an important tool for fighting epidemics, and that federal courts have upheld vaccination requirements since 1905 to promote public health.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is firmly sticking to the mandate, and announced Tuesday that employees at state facilities for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled will face a similar need. She has also dismissed claims from people seeking religious exemptions, noting that Roman Catholic leaders in the state support vaccination.

“God answered our prayers. He made the smartest men and women, scientists, doctors, researchers – he made them with a vaccine,” Ms Hochul said on September 26 at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn Church.

Javan Galindez, a physical therapist assistant at the Queens Clinic run by Northwell Health, said she’s a practicing Christian who seeks natural remedies and exercise to stay healthy. He said observers who cited the state’s mandate had rejected his request for a religious exemption.

“Everything that’s happening has left a bad taste in my mouth, and maybe it will prompt me to go somewhere else,” he said, referring to other states.

A Northwell spokesman said the system fired 1,400 employees who refused to vaccinate, out of its 77,000 workforce. She did not say how many people had requested religious exemptions, but said each request was considered in a rigorous review process.

The spokesperson said, “Northwell has taken a rapid, aggressive approach to successfully move towards full vaccination compliance while maintaining continuity of care and ensuring that our high standard of patient safety is not compromised in any way.” to be done.”

Jimmy Vielkind at [email protected]

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