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Judge says state must allow religious exemptions to COVID vaccine for healthcare workers

Oct 13, 2021 6:00 am

Brendan J. Lyons is reporting for the Times Union a federal judge in Utica October 12, granted a preliminary injunction on behalf of 17 unidentified medical workers who contend that the state, in establishing its vaccine mandate for health-care workers, failed to consider religious exemptions thereby violating their constitutional rights. Under the ruling, state health officials must allow employers to grant religious exemptions for healthcare workers while a lawsuit challenging the mandate makes its way through the courts. Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a statement immediately following the decision, saying her "responsibility as governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe." In his decision, U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd noted that the state offered no adequate explanation as to why a health care worker who qualified as medically exempt from vaccination could be afforded the ability to submit to daily testing before each shift and wearing a fitted N95 mask, but a worker with a sincere religious objection could not. Hurd concluded there is a good possibility the plaintiffs will prevail at trial by arguing the state's mandate does not meet the requirements for religious accommodations under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that it violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. In this case, the plaintiffs are arguing that it goes against their religious beliefs to be vaccinated because the COVID-19 vaccines that are available used fetal stem cell tissues derived from abortions as part of their research and development. The court's decision will not affect health care workers who have not invoked a religious exemption as their reason for not getting vaccinated. Read the full story in the Times Union.

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