Vaccine mandate halted by lawsuit

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks in the state Capitol in Albany in August.

UTICA — A federal court Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s vaccine mandate for the state’s health care workers.

The lawsuit, which was filed by 17 health care workers including doctors and nurses, alleges that the mandate nullifies federal anti-discrimination laws for “sincere religious exemptions” granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The suit names Gov. Hochul and her administration as defendants.

The restraining order suspends the vaccine mandate for health care workers to the extent that employers deny religious exemptions, bars the state Department of Health from interfering with religious exemptions already granted and taking disciplinary action against workers who have an exemption, according to the court ruling.

The temporary restraining order does not technically go into effect until Sept. 27 — the date which the state ordered health care workers to receive their first dose of the vaccine.

The order was granted by federal Judge David Hurd of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

The state has until Sept. 22 to respond to the order.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Christopher Ferrara in the federal case against the state, along with Thomas More Society vice president and senior counsel Peter Breen, senior counsel Stephen Crampton and counsel Michael McHale.

The Thomas More Society is a not-for-profit law firm headquartered in Chicago centered on “restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty,” according to the firm.

“What New York is attempting to do is slam shut an escape hatch from an unconstitutional vaccine mandate,” Ferrara said in a prepared statement.

The suit alleges that, in addition to violating the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by attempting to strip away Title VII protections, the vaccine mandate also violates the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution by subjecting those who have religious objections to the vaccine to termination from employment and irreparable damage to their professional standing, while exempting others from the mandate for more favored secular reasons, McHale said in a prepared statement.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights act, “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin” is forbidden.

The lawsuit claims the vaccine mandate for health care workers specifically excludes religious exemptions.

The plaintiffs are not anti-vaxxers, but are health care workers seeking choice, Ferrara said Tuesday.

If the governor’s office is opposed to the order becoming a preliminary injunction — which would in essence lift the mandate until a final determination in court is made — it must respond by Sept. 22, Ferrara said.

The Hochul administration must also attend oral arguments at the courthouse in Utica detailing why the order should not become an injunction, according to Judge Hurd’s ruling.

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