Today, Judge David Hurd in the Northern District Court of New York granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) for all health care workers against the state’s unconstitutional attempt to ignore federal law and remove religious exemptions and accommodations from unlawful COVID shot mandates for health care workers.
Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of several doctors, nurses, therapists and technologists against Governor Kathy Hochul, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker and Attorney General Letitia James. The case was filed in the Northern District.
Yesterday, a different judge heard the Liberty Counsel case also seeking a temporary restraining order and stated an order will issue soon. Today, Liberty Counsel is now filing a supplemental authority regarding the Northern District TRO in the Eastern District of New York in its case against Governor Hochul, Dr. Zucker, Trinity Health, Inc., New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc., and Westchester Medical Center Advanced Physician Services, P.C.
The Northern District Court ruled today that: “The vaccine mandate is suspended in operation to the extent that the DOH is barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination or that they revoke any exemptions employers already granted before the vaccine mandate issued; and the DOH is barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted; the DOH is barred from taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against the licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges or other professional status or qualification of any of the plaintiffs on account of their seeking or having obtained a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.”
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The “Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy” applies to healthcare workers in all “hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic and treatment centers, adult care facilities, certified home health agencies, hospices, long-term home health care programs, AIDS home care programs, licensed home care service agencies and limited licensed home care service agencies.” On August 16, 2021, Governor Hochul announced that the state will now require health care workers to accept or receive one of the three currently available COVID-19 injections to remain employed in the healthcare profession. The deadline for them to become fully vaccinated is Monday, September 27, 2021 for hospital employees and October 7, 2021 for other facilities.
If these health care workers do not comply with the mandate, they will be terminated, removed from the jobs they love and deprived of their ability to earn a living.
Though Governor Hochul’s announcement initially indicated that there would be “limited exceptions for workers with religious or medical reasons,” the State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council eliminated an exemption and accommodation for religious reasons on August 26. In fact, under the state’s rule change, the only exemptions permitted in New York will be for medical reasons documented by a physician or certified nurse practitioner.
However, state officials cannot override federal law or the federal Constitution. New York’s purported guidance and attempts to remove federal protections and even religious exemptions available under federal law are causing direct and irreparable harm. All health care workers are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which does provide for religious exemptions and accommodations and mandates that employers provide them. Against a government mandate, all health care workers are also protected by the First Amendment.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a great victory for all health care workers in New York who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots. New York is required to abide by federal law and the U.S. Constitution to provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots. Governor Hochul and New York health care facilities cannot override federal law and force health care workers to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by forcing them to inject an experimental substance. All New York health care workers have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious beliefs and forcing COVID shots without exemptions is unlawful.”