The October 12, 2021, Decision and Order now prohibits the governor and any agencies or persons under her from “enforcing, threatening to enforce, attempting to enforce, or otherwise requiring compliance” with the COVID vaccine mandate. New York is also forbidden to take “any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against the licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges or other professional status or qualification” of any of these medical professionals as a result of their seeking or obtaining a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.
United States District Judge David N. Hurd has granted a preliminary injunction to seventeen medical health professionals who hold religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines. The statewide injunction prevents New York from enforcing employers’ compliance with a “vaccine mandate,” issued on August 26, 2021. That mandate excludes exemptions for religious reasons while allowing exemptions for medical reasons. Thomas More Society attorneys initially filed for federal court relief from this discrimination and constitutional violation on September 14, 2021.
Judge Hurd’s decision holds that the health professionals are likely to succeed at trial on their claim that the mandate unlawfully forecloses the remedy of religious accommodation afforded under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a major victory for religious liberty in the face of what attorneys have labelled “draconian COVID-19 regimes,” Hurd further held that the mandate also violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment because it is not a neutral law, but rather allows medical exemptions while precluding religious exemptions.
The mandate fails the legal requirement of “narrow tailoring” of non-neutral laws that impact religion because New York failed to show that less restrictive means, such as the use of personal protective equipment, were not sufficient to address the alleged “compelling interest” in limiting the spread of COVID-19. The court further noted that the mandate omitted a religious exemption that, only days before, was present in the mandate’s previous version, and that other states have mandated vaccination in certain circumstances without denying the possibility of religious exemptions.