NY Judge Rules State Must Allow Religious Exemption to Vaccine, Following Employee Suit

A U.S. District Judge in Utica ruled that New York state cannot impose its COVID-19 vaccine on healthcare workers without affording them the option to seek religious exemptions, Reuters reported.

The ruling was derived out of a suit filed by 17 healthcare workers alleging that their employers revoked exemptions or refused to consider them, citing the state's August 26 emergency vaccine requirement that did not allow religious exemptions.

The workers involved, who went by pseudonyms because they said they feared being vilified in the media, opposed vaccinations on the grounds that some vaccines were developed from cell lines of aborted fetuses.

By not granting them medical exemptions, the workers contended in the suit that their employers were acting unfavorably toward those with religious objections, violating the Constitution's equal protection clause. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement that she stood by the state's mandate.

"My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that," she said. "I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe."

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New York state cannot impose its COVID-19 vaccine on healthcare workers without affording them the option to seek religious exemptions, a judge ruled recently. Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates. Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

This represents one of many cases as questions arise over religious exemptions. United Airlines workers have taken legal action against the company after being furloughed upon submitting religious exemptions, following the company's September 27 vaccination deadline. Furthermore, a doctor and medical student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have filed suits after their religious exemptions were denied, the AP reported on September 29.

Despite courts facing consistent appeals on the grounds of religion, most mainstream faith organizations and religious leaders have expressed support for the vaccine. The Vatican, the Mormon Church's First Presidency, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have all come out in support of vaccination.

According to the state's COVID-19 vaccine tracker, nearly 65 percent of New York's total population have received both shots, and 76 percent of people over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated. Over the past seven days, over 401,000 people have received the shot.

While rates in the state may be higher than the rest of the country, thousands of individuals nonetheless remain hesitant or opposed. Christopher Ferrara, the lead counsel for the 17 vaccine objectors, expressed his pleasure with the judge's ruling in a statement, standing by his clients' abilities to avoid the mandate.

"With this decision, the court rightly recognized that yesterday's 'front line heroes' in dealing with COVID cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy," he said.