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Supreme Court Rejects New York State Healthcare Workers’ Emergency Bid for Religious Exemptions for COVID Vaccine Mandate

Photo: Supreme Court Rejects New York State Healthcare Workers’ Emergency Bid for Religious Exemptions for COVID Vaccine Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency request Monday by New York State healthcare workers to allow religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate updated by new Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).

In a 6-3 decision in We the Patriots USA v. Hochul, with Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissenting, the Court rejected the challenge by a group of 20 doctors and nurses who argued the governor’s refusal to allow religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate violates their First Amendment rights.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included an allowance for religious exemptions in his mandate for healthcare workers, but Hochul eliminated them after assuming office.

In October, a federal judge ruled the state must allow for religious exemptions in its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the mandate.

In September, Hochul told an audience at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn the successful development of the coronavirus vaccine is an example of God answering prayers.

As NBC News reported, Hochul described those who choose to be vaccinated as the “smart ones,” adding, “You know there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants. You know who they are.”

Similarly, on September 12, while speaking at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, the governor said:

But throughout the whole experience of the pandemic, a lot of people prayed to God. Right? Did a lot of prayers. I prayed, I prayed to God, God deliver us from this. And then he did. He inspired the smartest scientists and doctors and researchers to create a vaccine. God gave us that through men and women so we could be delivered from this pandemic. So how can you say no to that? How can you believe that God would give a vaccine that would cause you harm? That is not the truth. Those are just lies out there on social media. And all of you, have to be not just the true believers, but our apostles to go out there and spread the word that we can get out of this once and for all, if everybody gets vaccinated.

In his dissenting opinion, Gorsuch referred to Hochul’s decision to eliminate the religious exemptions:

The new Governor announced that the decision to eliminate the exemption was “intentiona[l]” and justified because no “organized religion” sought it and individuals who did were not “listening to God and what God wants.” Now, thousands of New York healthcare workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits. Twenty of them have filed suit arguing that the State’s conduct violates the First Amendment and asking us to enjoin the enforcement of the mandate against them until this Court can decide their petition for certiorari. Respectfully, I believe they deserve that relief.

Gorsuch described several of the Catholic doctors who joined the lawsuit because they are seeking a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate, yet have still consistently treated patients infected with COVID-19, despite placing themselves at risk.

“These applicants are not ‘anti-vaxxers’ who object to all vaccines,” the justice wrote, adding:

Instead, the applicants explain, they cannot receive a COVID–19 vaccine because their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the currently available vaccines has depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines in its production or testing. The applicants acknowledge that many other religious believers feel differently about these matters than they do. But no one questions the sincerity of their religious beliefs.

“A new Governor whose assumption of office coincided with the change in policy admitted that the revised mandate ‘left off ‘a religious exemption ‘intentionally,’” Gorsuch wrote, elaborating:

The Governor offered an extraordinary explanation for the change too. She said that “God wants” people to be vaccinated—and that those who disagree are not listening to “organized religion” or “everybody from the Pope on down.” Then the new Governor went on to announce changes to the State’s unemployment scheme designed to single out for special disfavor healthcare workers who failed to comply with the revised mandate. This record gives rise to more than a “slight suspicion” that New York acted out of “animosity [toward] or distrust of” unorthodox religious beliefs and practices …

“This record practically exudes suspicion of those who hold unpopular religious beliefs,” the justice added. “That alone is sufficient to render the mandate unconstitutional as applied to these applicants.”

Liberty Counsel, which filed an amicus brief in support of the healthcare workers, said in a statement Monday that while the Court denied emergency relief to the parties, they “can now seek the High Court’s full review.”

Additionally, Liberty Counsel notes “all health care workers wrongfully terminated may pursue a claim for damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which does allow for religious exemptions and accommodations.”

“The New York mandate is a gross violation of the religious freedom of health care workers,” said Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver. “There can be no dispute that New York is required to abide by federal law and the U.S. Constitution and provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots.”

“Employers that wrongfully terminated employees who submitted religious exemption requests will face a day of reckoning under Title VII,” he added.

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