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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks State Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers Seeking Religious Exemptions

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the Department of Health (DOH) from requiring health care employers to deny religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccination mandate. The case was brought by 17 health care professionals who allege that their sincere religious beliefs compel them to refuse the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available. They filed civil rights claims against the Governor, Health Commissioner, and Attorney General, alleging that the mandate violates their First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Supremacy Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs requested a TRO that would enjoin DOH from enforcing the mandate “to the extent that it categorically requires health care employers to deny or revoke religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination mandates.”

In his ruling, Judge David N. Hurd issued a TRO barring DOH from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination or that they revoke any exemptions already granted, prohibiting DOH from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination, and barring DOH from taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges, or other professional status or qualification of any of the plaintiffs for seeking or having obtained a religious exemption.

The TRO takes effect Sept. 27th, which is the date by which nursing home and hospital staff must have their first vaccination shot. The text of the ruling is available here.

We understand that the Northern District of New York’s decision granting the TRO applies statewide. LeadingAge NY is also aware of two other pending court cases on this matter, including one in which the judge did not choose to issue a TRO. We are analyzing these legal developments with our counsel and will provide more information to members as this matter unfolds.

Contact: Diane Darbyshire, ddarbyshire@leadingageny.org, 518-867-8828