A federal judge temporarily blocked the state of New York on Tuesday from forcing medical workers to be vaccinated after a group of health care workers sued, saying their Constitutional rights were violated because the state's mandate disallowed religious exemptions.
Judge David Hurd in Utica issued the order after 17 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, claimed in a lawsuit Monday that their rights were violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed the exemptions.
The judge gave New York state until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit in federal court in Utica. If the state opposes the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary court order blocking the vaccine mandate, a Sept. 28 oral hearing will occur.
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. New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement last month that new vaccine requirements were needed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant and prevent further mutations.
No exemption for "sincere religious beliefs"
In their lawsuit, health care professionals disguised their identities with pseudonyms such as "Dr. A.," "Nurse A.," and "Physician Liaison X." They cited violations of the U.S. Constitution, along with the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law, because the state Department of Health regulation requiring workers to get the vaccine provided no exemption for "sincere religious beliefs that compel the refusal of such vaccination."
The court papers said all of the available vaccines employ aborted fetus cell lines in their testing, development or production. The lawsuit said the plaintiffs wanted to proceed anonymously because they "run the risk of ostracization, threats of harm, immediate firing and other retaliatory consequences if their names become known."
The plaintiffs, all Christians, included practicing doctors, nurses, a nuclear medicine technologist, a cognitive rehabilitation therapist and a physician's liaison who all oppose as a matter of religious conviction any medical cooperation in abortion, the lawsuit said. It added that they are not "anti-vaxxers" who oppose all vaccines.
Messages seeking comment were sent to lawyers for the Thomas More Society who filed the lawsuit, the New York state health department and the New York's governor's office. The state attorney general's office referred questions to the health department.
Roughly 69% of New York residents have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many large corporationsto keep employees safe from the virus, and must, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, offer exemptions to individuals with either a disability or "sincerely held" religious belief that prevents them from getting the vaccine.
No major religious denomination in the U.S. opposes vaccination outright. But an individual's "sincerely held" religious belief does not have to be part of an organized-religion mandate to be considered a valid reason for exemption from getting the vaccine.
"It can be a personal, sincerely held religious belief which arises from the very nature of freedom of religion articulated in the First Amendment," Domenique Camacho Moran, a labor attorney at New York-based law firm Farrell Fritz, told CBS MoneyWatch this week.
The Biden administration'sannounced Thursday expand vaccine mandates further, affecting roughly 100 million Americans and shining a new light on exemption claims and how employers can verify their legitimacy.