NEW YORK (WABC) -- A federal judge in Utica sided Tuesday with 17 health care workers who object to New York State's vaccine mandate for health workers on religious grounds, granting their request for an injunction that stops the state from enforcing the policy for those who claim a religion-based objection.
"There is no adequate explanation from defendants about why the 'reasonable accommodation' that must be extended to a medically exempt health care worker under 2.61 could not similarly be extended to a healthcare worker with a sincere religious objection," Judge David Hurd wrote.
Hurd's preliminary injunction means New York will continue to be barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions.
Unlike other judges who have heard similar cases about vaccine mandates, Judge Hurd concluded "the public interest lies with enforcing the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law" and not the wider public health.
He wrote that the health care workers challenging suing the state were likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claim.
"The question presented by this case is not whether plaintiffs and other individuals are entitled to a religious exemption from the state's workplace vaccination requirement," he wrote. "Instead, the question is whether the state's summary imposition of 2.61 conflicts with plaintiffs' and other individuals' federally protected right to seek a religious accommodation from their individual employers. The answer to this question is clearly yes. Plaintiffs have established that 2.61 conflicts with longstanding federal protections for religious beliefs and that they and others will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief."
The plaintiffs said they hold the sincere religious belief that they "cannot consent to be inoculated...with vaccines that were tested, developed or produced with fetal cell lines derived from procured abortions."
According to the plaintiffs, the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available violate these sincere religious beliefs "because they all employ fetal cell lines derived from procured abortion in testing, development or production."
Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration began requiring workers at hospitals and nursing homes to be vaccinated on Sept. 27 and more recently expanded the requirement to include workers at assisted living homes, hospice care, treatment centers and home health aides.
"My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that," Hochul said in a statement. "I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe."
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