Health care workers in New York cannot be prevented from seeking religious exemption to the State of New York’s mandatory COVID-19 shot policy, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a major win for 17 Catholic and Protestant plaintiffs who won’t take the shot over its ties to cell lines derived from aborted children.
Judge David N. Hurd of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction against Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State of New York, forbidding any interference with granting of religious exemptions protected by the U.S. Constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In a 27-page ruling, Judge Hurd suspended the portion of New York’s vaccine mandate that required private employers to deny religious exemptions for health care workers. He ordered the state not to punish or threaten to punish workers who seek religious exemptions. Hurd wrote the injunction serves the public interest, which “lies with enforcing the guarantees enshrined the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law.” The injunction will remain in force until the case is decided. It replaces a temporary restraining order Hurd issued on Sept. 14.
“With this decision, the court rightly recognized that yesterday’s ‘front line heroes’ in dealing with COVID cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy,” said Christopher A. Ferrara, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which represents the plaintiffs.
Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Stephen M. Crampton said Judge Hurd’s ruling is a victory for constitutional rights. “New York seems to be dead set on ignoring the United States Constitution, its Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act,” Crampton said. “We are pleased that Judge Hurd has seen fit to put an immediate halt to that gubernatorial overreach.”
Governor Hochul released a two-sentence statement in reaction to the court ruling: “My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe.”
Hochul previously dismissed the idea of a religious exemption from her shot policy and predicted the state was “going to win that in court in a matter of days.” She blamed unvaccinated workers for looming staff shortages, as health care providers have fired workers across the state for not taking the shot.
An emergency state policy issued Aug. 26 required all New York health care workers be “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19, starting Sept. 27. The policy allowed for medical exemptions, but removed a provision for religious exemptions enacted just eight days prior.
Seventeen doctors and other health care workers filed suit against Gov. Hochul and her administration on Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court in Utica, alleging the shot mandate violated federal law and constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Some health care workers had previously approved exemptions rescinded. Many others were threatened with discipline, suspension and eventual job termination for not taking a COVID shot. Many objected to the use of abortion-derived cell lines in the research, development and testing of the COVID shots.
Judge Hurd ruled that the health care workers were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that the mandate violates the First Amendment, the Free Exercise Clause, Supremacy Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He said the state’s policy would likely fail a “strict scrutiny” test requiring the government to show a compelling state interest and that it used the least-restrictive means to achieve it. While the judge did not order employers to grant religious exemptions, his ruling made clear that under Title VII, such exemptions must be granted unless employers can prove they would be an “undue hardship.”
The removal of the original religious exemption from the shot mandate was a “religious gerrymander that triggers heightened scrutiny,” Judge Hurd wrote. The state must show “interests of the highest order” that are met with a narrowly tailored solution. “Put another way,” Judge Hurd wrote, “so long as the government can achieve its interests in a manner that does not burden religion, it must do so.” The state failed to establish narrow tailoring by using the “least restrictive means,” the judge wrote.
Judge Hurd also ruled the plaintiffs can remain anonymous in the court records, something they requested out of fear of retaliation for taking a stand against the COVID shot. A number of the plaintiffs said they were told by employers if they did not comply with the mandate, their employment would end and the termination would be considered a voluntary resignation.
The ruling said the granting of religious exemptions places no more burden on employers than granting of medical exemptions. The state failed to show how granting religious exemptions “would impose any more harm—especially when plaintiffs have been on the front lines of stopping COVID for the past 18 months while donning PPE (personal protective equipment) and exercising other proper protocols in effectively slowing the spread of the disease,” Hurd wrote.
Ferrara said the risks involved are no different between a medical exemption and a religious one. “Some of these plaintiffs contracted COVID while treating patients, recovered, and were allowed to return to work with the same protective measures that were good enough for the 18 months that they were the heroes in the battle against the virus,” he said. “There is no ‘science’ to show that these same measures are suddenly inadequate — especially when they are allowed for those with medical exemptions.”
Growing pushback against mandates
The Thomas More Society case is one of three ongoing federal suits involving New York’s COVID shot mandate and denial of religious exemptions to health care workers. On Oct. 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will hear an appeal of a district judge’s denial of a preliminary injunction against the mandate sought by three health care workers and We the Patriots USA. A temporary injunction against the mandate was issued by the Second Circuit appeals court on Sept. 30. A suit filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of 1,500 health care workers has an Oct. 19 hearing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The flurry of litigation nationally is part of a growing push-back against the heavily promoted COVID-19 gene-serum shots. Lawyers in a number of federal court jurisdictions argue the shot mandates are not legal, because the only anti-COVID shot approved by the Food & Drug Administration, Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty, is not released for distribution in the United States. Under federal law, vaccines under emergency use authorization (EUA) are experimental and cannot be mandatory.
“The FDA has clearly stated there is currently no fully FDA-approved licensed COVID shot available to the population,” said Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The Pfizer injection that is currently available in the U.S. is not FDA approved and remains under emergency use authorization only. That means that people have the option to accept or refuse the shots.”
A federal lawsuit filed Oct. 6 in Florida makes the same argument on behalf of members of the U.S. military who are under mandate to receive a COVID inoculation. The lawsuit —John Doe #1-14, et al. v. Lloyd Austin III, et al.— accuses the FDA and the U.S. Department of Defense of a “bait and switch” tactic to push a mandate when the approved drug is not available for distribution.
“These intentional misrepresentations of the law by the FDA and the Armed Services are part of an effort to circumvent informed consent requirements, to enable mandates for unlicensed and dangerous products, and to deceive and coerce service members into taking an unlicensed and experimental vaccine that they have every right to refuse,” reads the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
Reports of vaccine deaths, injuries
Trial attorneys and doctors are also sounding alarms over the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 shots. Attorney Aaron Siri released a letter sent to the FDA by his client, California physician Patricia Lee, who said her experience in the intensive-care unit “does not comport with claims made by federal health authorities regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Lee cited the cases of six patients she treated who suffered severe side effects or died after taking the COVID shots. A 40-year-old patient began feeling numbness in one leg after the second anti-COVID dose and was soon admitted to the ICU with bilateral leg paralysis. The patient was diagnosed with myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord that only worsened despite “maximal medical therapy,” Lee wrote. The patient became quadriplegic, blind and required a tracheotomy. The patient is now cognitively impaired and has an irregular heart rate.
A healthy man in his early 60s developed severe dizziness after receiving the COVID shot. He was admitted to the hospital after suffering “sudden neurologic deterioration,” Dr. Lee wrote. Imaging studies of his head revealed cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which she described as a very rare type of stroke that is usually associated with risk factors that were absent in the man’s case.
The doctor treated four obstetrics patients in the ICU, two with postpartum hemorrhagic shock and two with septic shock secondary to intra-uterine inflammation. She said it is rare to see obstetric cases in the ICU. Both women were vaccinated. Two other women came in with “abdominal catastrophes” that required exploratory surgery, Dr. Lee wrote. The women had sections of dead bowel tissue removed, and had to have their abdominal cavities left open because of ongoing blood-clotting issues that required repeated laparotomies. Neither woman had any predisposition that would cause a “hypercoagulable” state, Lee wrote.
Three of the six patients died, and the others are struggling with long-term complications and diminished quality of life, she wrote. “…It appears statistically improbable that any one physician should witness this many COVID-19 vaccine injuries if the federal health authority claims regarding COVID-19 vaccine safety were accurate,” Lee wrote. “I have spoken with colleagues who have also had similar experiences in treating patients. While some seem willing to accept these vaccine injuries as unavoidable collateral damage in a mass-vaccination program, many do express dismay.”
Siri said Dr. Lee “has been an ICU physician and surgeon for over 15 years and in that time has not seen vaccine injuries at the rate she has seen from COVID-19 vaccines.” The cases the doctor shared, he wrote, “include entirely healthy individuals suffering serious, often fatal injuries…”
As of Oct. 1, the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) showed 16,310 deaths related to COVID-19 vaccination. The VAERS database includes nearly 780,000 adverse events related to the shots, including miscarriages, heart attacks, severe allergic reactions, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), anaphylaxis, thrombocytopenia, Bell’s Palsy, blindness, stroke, Guillain-Barré Syndrome and sepsis, according to a report by VAERS Analysis. The COVID shot track record in 10 months far exceeds deaths and injuries recorded in 32 years for all other vaccines combined, the VAERS Analysis indicates.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!