Judge rules New York must allow religious exemptions in health care worker vaccine mandate

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A federal judge ruled Tuesday that New York state must allow for religious exemptions in its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Why it matters: The move is a new obstacle in the course of Gov. Kathy M. Hochul’s effort to require inoculation for all health care workers.

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  • The ruling comes the same day unvaccinated employees were to prevented from working, per the New York Times.

Catch up quick: New York's initial vaccine mandate for health care workers —passed under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — included religious exemptions, but an updated mandate under Gov. Kathy Hochul did away with the exemptions, the ruling noted.

  • The vaccine mandate for health care workers went into effect at the end of September.

  • That same month, a federal judge extended a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing the mandate against 17 health workers who had sued over the lack of religious exemptions, until Oct. 12.

The big picture: Judge David N. Hurd granted an injunction Tuesday preventing the Department of Health from enforcing a ban that does not allow for religious exemptions or interfering with the granting of such exemptions.

  • "These conclusions have nothing to do with how an individual employer should handle an individual employee’s religious objection to a workplace vaccination requirement. But they have everything to do with the proper division of federal and state power," Hurd wrote.

What they're saying: "My 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," Hochul said in a statement Tuesday evening.

  • "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," Christopher Ferrara, a lawyer for the workers at the Thomas More Society, said in a statement.

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