NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A federal judge has temporarily allowed health care workers in New York to skip mandatory COVID-19 vaccines if they apply for religious exemptions.
He granted a preliminary injunction on Tuesday morning, CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported.
The health care workers protesting the vaccine mandate objected to being forced to take vaccines that used fetal cell lines from procured abortions. A New York state health official confirmed in an affidavit that fetal cell lines were used in the testing and production of current COVID-19 vaccines.
Seventeen health care workers sued last month, objecting to the state Department of Health’s vaccine mandate, which didn’t allow for religious exemptions.
U.S. District Judge David Hurd wrote of the ruling that the state is, “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted.”
Thomas Ferrara was lead counsel for the plaintiffs, and said they were COVID heroes who were treated unfairly.
“Suddenly, however, with this absurd mandate they were treated as Typhoid Mary, disease-carrying villains, fired overnight for wanting to do exactly what they did before — handle the patients, care for the sick, cure diseases with necessary protective equipment,” Ferrara said.
Legal experts say the ruling calls for employers to make an accommodation.
“So an accommodation is something that is gonna be on a case-by-case basis that balances between the employer and the employee, to both protect religious freedom as found in the First Amendment in Title 7, but also to protect the public at large,” Andrew Leib said. “It could be something like wearing masks, often testing, staying away from co-workers and the public.”
New York state had mandated that all health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27. At the time of the deadline, about 92% of hospital staff statewide had been vaccinated.
In a statement, Gov. Kathy Hochul wrote, “I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe.”
“The court even acknowledged the governor is gonna fight it and in this type of decision there is grounds for an immediate appeal to the Second Circuit, and we should expect that soon,” Leib said.
It’s not clear what the exact timing is on the appeal.
The Vatican has said it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production processes.