Liberty Counsel filed the reply brief in the lawsuit in the federal Eastern District of New York on behalf of more than 1,500 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. Liberty Counsel is pursuing a preliminary injunction to protect those health care workers employed by state and private employers who attempt to remove religious exemptions from the shot mandate. The hearing has been set for Tuesday, October 19.
Yesterday, the Northern District Court of New York issued a preliminary injunction for all health care workers against the state’s unconstitutional attempt to ignore federal law and remove religious exemptions and accommodations from unlawful COVID shot mandates.
Judge David Hurd ruled that “the Department of Health is barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny or revoke any religious exemptions already granted” regarding the shot mandates for health care workers. The court also ruled that the state “is barred from interfering with the granting of religious exemptions or with the operation of exemptions already granted” as well as state health officials are “barred from taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against the licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges or other professional status or qualification of any of the plaintiffs on account of their seeking or having obtained a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.”
The claims brought by the plaintiffs in that case are virtually identical to the ones raised by Liberty Counsel’s plaintiffs.
Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously issued a preliminary injunction in favor of 16 athletes who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging Western Michigan University’s (WMU) unlawful denial of their request for religious accommodation from the college’s shot mandate. However, even though no similar “vaccine” requirement exists for any other students at WMU and other universities, WMU would have forced the athletes to be vaccinated by August 31 or be kicked off the team. This decision is now binding precedent in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The court wrote, “We do not doubt (WMU’s) good faith, nor do we fail to appreciate the burdens COVID-19 has placed on this nation’s universities … but having announced a system under which student-athletes can seek individualized exemptions, the university must explain why it chose not to grant any to plaintiffs. And it did not fairly do so here.”
Similar to Liberty Counsel’s New York lawsuit, the university refused to provide religious accommodations to those student athletes who requested them.
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. 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 health care workers are also protected by the First Amendment.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “We look forward to presenting this evidence in court on behalf of these health care employees who are being unlawfully bullied by private employers. 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 any religious exemptions is unlawful.”