On October 12, 2021, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate against health care workers who object to COVID-19 vaccinations on religious grounds. Judge David Hurd of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled that the plaintiff health care workers were likely to ultimately succeed in this case. Judge Hurd held that the question before the court was “whether the state’s vaccine mandate that offers no religious exemption ‘conflicts with plaintiffs’ and other individuals’ federally protected right to seek a religious accommodation from their individual employers.’” The judge determined that the plaintiffs had established that the vaccination mandate “conflicts with longstanding federal protections for religious beliefs and that they and others will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief.” The judge opined that the state had given no reason that the same accommodations granted to health care workers with medical exemptions from the vaccination mandate could not also be granted to health care workers seeking religious exemptions.
Back in September, Judge Hurd had issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of New York’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Regarding the court’s October 12 decision, plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society commented: “‘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.'”
The Buffalo News reported that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s vaccine mandate “disrupted a number of hospital and nursing home operations as already strained health staffing levels were hit by thousands of workers either resigning, being put on unpaid leave or fired. The impact included the canceling of some elective surgeries, closing of some urgent care facilities and slowing of admissions to nursing homes.”
On October 15, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, on behalf of the Hochul administration, filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. “I applaud the Attorney General’s challenge of the lower court’s decision on the religious exemption to the vaccine requirement,” said Hochul.
According to Newsday, the New York State Department of Health has reported that 33,982 or roughly three percent of health care workers were “terminated, resigned, retired or furloughed” for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.