On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York blocked a mandate requiring healthcare workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to its lack of exemptions.
The Hill reported that U.S. District Judge David Hurd granted a temporary order that prevents the New York State Department of Health from enforcing the mandate because it does not grant religious exemptions.
Hazel Crampton-Hays, Press Secretary for Governor Kathy Hochul, said that the office is considering all legal options to reverse the block.
“Requiring vaccination of healthcare workers is critical to this battle. This order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, but it temporarily bars the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate where individuals have claims for religious exemption. We are considering all of our legal options to keep our communities safe,” she said.
Tuesday’s ruling is the first step in a lawsuit brought by 17 New York healthcare workers who asked the mandate to be enjoined on Monday.
The lawsuit alleges that the vaccine mandate violates the free exercise clause of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the latter guaranteeing equal protection. The plaintiffs also argue that the rule infringes upon Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on factors such as religion, gender, race and national origin.
Before his resignation, former Governor Andrew Cuomo said the vaccine mandate would come with health and religious exemptions. However, the rule that was enforced by the New York State Department of Health has only a health exemption, not a religious one.
For an employee to successfully argue the need for a religious exemption, they must have a “sincerely-held” religious stance against vaccinations. Although no major religion forbids vaccinations, the employee does not have to belong to a religious organization to argue their claim under the law.
Employers still find that there is leeway. For example, Conway Regional Hospital has allowed its employee religious exemptions under the condition that they have not used other drugs that would also fall under a religious exemption (due to using fetal cells) such as Claritin, Benadryl and other mainstream over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.
A hearing for a preliminary injunction against Tuesday’s ruling in New York is set for Sept. 22.