Supreme Court denies religious challenge to New York vaccine mandate

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency attempt to stop the enforcement of New York’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

The legal challenge was filed over the argument that the vaccine mandate violates the First Amendment because there is no religious exemption.

The request was made by a group of 20 doctors and nurses from the state, who presented the petition for a temporary injunction to Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor is assigned to handle cases from New York. In a one-line order, the court denied the request without any reasoning or explanation included.

Three of the court’s six-member conservative majority – Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito – said in the order that they would have granted the request to stop the vaccine requirement. 

Reports emerged before the ruling that some health care providers are not enforcing the vaccine requirements for their employees due to labor shortages that existed prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. Gorsuch, in a 14-page dissent, said that the New York mandate “falters at each step,” indicating it was written to serve a state interest.

He wrote critically of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s remarks at a Christian center in Brooklyn in September when she commented that unvaccinated people “aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” The petitioners had asked in November that the Supreme Court temporarily block “New York’s ban on religious exemptions for healthcare workers opposed to mandatory COVID vaccination.” 

In response to the health care workers, New York Attorney General Letitia James denied that the vaccine rule showed any unfair treatment toward religious beliefs. She wrote in a court brief, “The rule’s medical exemption is tightly constrained in both scope and duration, and it serves rather than undermines the rule’s objective of protecting the health of healthcare workers.” 




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