The Supreme Court voted today against blocking the New York state COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers that has no religious exemption. Thousands of doctors and nurses filed suit against the mandate because it would force them to get the COVID vaccine despite their religious or pro-life views.
The nation’s highest court voted 6-3 against the emergency injunction to prevent enforcement of the mandate. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented, siding with medical workers who say they are being forced to choose between their jobs and religious beliefs.
“Now, thousands of New York healthcare workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits,” Gorsuch wrote in a 14-page opinion that Alito joined.
New York is one of just three states, along with Maine and Rhode Island, that do not accommodate Christian health care workers who object to the vaccine on religious grounds. In a similiar Maine cases, SCOTUS voted against an injunction with the same three justices voting in dissent.
The medical workers filed their lawsuit against Governor Kathy Hochul, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker, and Attorney General Letitia James against the state’s COVID shot mandate.
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The “Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy” applies to health care 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 was Monday, September 27, 2021, for hospital employees and October 7, 2021 for other facilities.
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.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver says state officials cannot override federal law or the federal Constitution.
He noted that 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, he contends.
Staver said, “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 any religious exemptions is unlawful.”