(The Center Square) – A federal judge in New York on Tuesday issued a temporary injunction blocking the state from mandating health care workers get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to continue working.
The order by U.S. District Judge David Hurd comes a day after the Thomas More Society filed a complaint on behalf of 17 health care professionals, including practicing physicians, nurses and others who said they were “united in their conscientious religious objection as Christians” to being forced to take a vaccine that was produced or tested with fetal cell lines.
The Thomas More Society is a nonprofit law firm offering pro bono services for religious liberty cases.
“By receiving one of the COVID vaccines currently available, all of which are abortion-connected, they believe they would be cooperating with the evil of abortion in a manner that violates their consciences and that they would sin gravely if they acted against their consciences by taking any of these vaccines,” the plaintiffs stated in their complaint against Gov. Kathy Hochul, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and state Attorney General Letitia James.
As of June 2, the Charlotte Lozier Institute noted that neither the Pfizer nor Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were developed using cells from aborted fetuses. However, some of the tests on both of those vaccines were conducted using tissues derived from aborted fetuses. The institute, which is the education and research public policy arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, did report that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed from and tested with aborted tissue.
On Aug. 26, the state Department of Health issued a directive that required all healthcare workers to become fully vaccinated. Unlike order for state employees, aside from healthcare workers at state-run facilities, the order did not give workers a weekly test-out option.
Hurd also noted in his order that the DOH mandate did not include a religious exemption for workers. His order Tuesday bars them from blocking any effort to grant such exemptions moving forward.
“The DOH is 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 judge wrote.
The case was filed in the Northern District U.S. District Court in New York, but a spokesperson for the Thomas More Society said the order applies statewide.
Since the mandate is not due to take effect until Sept. 27, the deadline for all healthcare workers to receive their first dose of a vaccine, the order does not officially take effect until then.
A message seeking comment from the Hochul administration was not returned Tuesday afternoon.
In his order, Hurd gave the state until Sept. 22 to oppose a motion for a preliminary injunction in the case. If the state files an objection, oral arguments would take place on Sept. 28 to determine if a preliminary injunction is issued.
The Northern District case isn’t the only legal challenge to the healthcare worker mandate. On Friday, a health care executive and a worker filed a suit in New York’s Eastern District federal court, seeking the same protections. Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal organization seeking to protect and defend religious freedom representing the plaintiffs in that case, sought a temporary order in its case on Monday.
On Tuesday, the organization said it filed a “supplemental authority” in the Eastern District federal courthouse.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement the restraining order in the Thomas More case was a big win for all health care workers who have deep faith-based convictions and objections to the vaccines.
“Gov. 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,” he said. “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.”