On Friday, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York health care workers against Governor Kathy Hochul, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker, Trinity Health, Inc., New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc. (NYP), and Westchester Medical Center Advanced Physician Services, P.C., regarding the state’s attempt to ignore federal law and remove religious exemptions and accommodations from unlawful COVID shot mandates for health care workers. Liberty Counsel is seeking an emergency restraining order.
The “Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy” applies to healthcare workers in all “hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic and treatment centers, adult care facilities, certified home health agencies, hospices, long-term home health care programs, AIDS home care programs, licensed home care service agencies and limited licensed home care service agencies.” On August 16, 2021, Governor Hochul announced that the state will now require health care workers to accept or receive one of the three currently available COVID-19 injections to remain employed in the healthcare profession. The deadline for them to become fully vaccinated is Monday, September 27, 2021 for hospital employees and October 7, 2021 for other facilities.
When some of the plaintiffs presented their religious exemptions seeking an accommodation, they received the following responses:
-“Religious exemptions are no longer accepted” in New York.
-“As a health care institution in NYS, NYP must follow the NYS DOH requirements as they evolve. This means that NYP can no longer consider any religious exemptions to the COVID vaccination – even those previously approved.”
-“WMC Health, in order to comply with DOH Regulations, will no longer accept applications for a religious exemption and those applications already received will not be considered.”
-“Under the emergency regulations the NYS DOH will not permit exemptions or deferrals for: Sincerely held religious beliefs . . . . We are required to comply with state law.”
Plaintiff John Doe 1 is president of a private faith-based senior care facility. He would like to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs of his employees, but the NY mandate prohibits him from doing so. John Doe 1 will have only one employee in his entire facility as of October 7 if Governor Hochul’s mandate is not enjoined. John Doe 1 has been threatened with the loss of his facility and daily fines for failure to reject the request for religious exemptions from his employees.
Plaintiff John Doe 2 is a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and has a sincerely held religious objection to all vaccines. John Doe 2’s Christian Scientist religious beliefs compel him to believe that healing comes through prayer. For the past 11 years he has received a religious exemption. His exemption was granted this year until the recent mandate, at which time it was revoked.
If these health care workers do not comply with the mandate, they will be terminated, removed from the jobs they love and deprived of their ability to earn a living.
According to a 2018 State University of New York (SUNY) study, there are approximately 450,000 workers employed by hospitals in New York. Many are requesting religious exemptions and accommodations because they have sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from taking these shots. All three of the currently available COVID injections are produced by, derived from, manufactured with, tested on, developed with, or otherwise connected to or “associated” with aborted fetal cell lines.
Though Governor Hochul’s announcement initially indicated that there would be “limited exceptions for workers with religious or medical reasons,” the State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council eliminated an exemption and accommodation for religious reasons on August 26. In fact, under the state’s rule change, the only exemptions permitted in New York will be for medical reasons documented by a physician or certified nurse practitioner.
However, state officials cannot override federal law or the federal Constitution. New York’s purported guidance and attempts to remove federal protections and even religious exemptions available under federal law are causing direct and irreparable harm. All health care workers are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which does provide for religious exemptions and accommodations and mandates that employers provide them. Against a government mandate, all healthcare workers are also protected by the First Amendment.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “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. Governor Hochul and New York health care facilities cannot override federal law and force health care workers to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by forcing them to inject an experimental substance. All New York health care workers have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious beliefs and forcing COVID shots without exemptions is unlawful.”