Religious Argument Against N.Y. Vaccine Rule Dealt Blow by Court
A New York state mandate that health care workers get Covid-19 vaccinations was reinstated by a federal appeals court, casting doubt on a religious exemption argument.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday dissolved a lower-court injunction that had barred state officials from enforcing the mandate over religious objections. The ruling, which comes just two days after a three-judge panel of the appeals court heard arguments in two vaccine cases, allows New York to go forward with the vaccine requirement while the cases are litigated.
The court ruled in cases filed by separate groups of health care workers who claimed that the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment requires the state to allow religious exemptions.
In one case, filed by three hospital workers backed by the nonprofit group We the Patriots USA, a federal judge in Brooklyn had ruled against their request to block the state from enforcing the rule. In the other case, filed by a larger group of health care workers, a federal judge in Utica had issued an injunction barring state officials from enforcing the mandate without an exception for people whose religious principles won’t allow them to be vaccinated.
The appeals court agreed with the Brooklyn judge’s denial of an injunction. It reversed the injunction ordered by the Utica judge. The court didn’t give its reasons, saying it will publish opinions in both cases later.
The arguments come amid a national debate over vaccine mandates, with dozens of suits filed by health care workers, police, teachers and others who don’t think they should be required to accept shots under threat of being fired or sidelined. Officials behind the mandates argue they’re necessary to halt the spread of Covid-19, and point to a long history of governments legally requiring that people be vaccinated against polio, diphtheria and other illnesses.
Also on Friday, a divided U.S. Supreme Court declined to order Maine to allow religious exemptions to its own new requirement that health care workers be inoculated against the disease.
The New York cases are We the Patriots USA Inc. v. Hochul, 21-2179, and Dr. A. v. Hochul, 21-2566, Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).
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