U.S. District Judge David Hurd's injunction, which is effective statewide, temporarily bars New York State from forcing employers to fire medical workers seeking a religious exemption.
"The question presented by this case is not whether plaintiffs and other individuals are entitled to a religious exemption from the State’s workplace vaccination requirement," Hurd wrote.
"Instead, the question is whether the State’s summary imposition of [the mandate] conflicts with plaintiffs’ and other individuals’ federally protected right to seek a religious accommodation from their individual employers," he continued, adding, "The answer to this question is clearly yes."
Hurd also left the door open for an appeal, writing, "Because the issues in dispute are of exceptional importance to the health and the religious freedoms of our citizens, an appeal may very well be appropriate."
The New York State Department of Health issued an emergency regulation Aug. 26 mandating that most healthcare workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27 or face termination. On Sept. 14, attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed a suit on behalf of 17 Roman Catholic and Baptist medical workers, alleging discrimination and constitutional violation.
"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 Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrera, who represented the plaintiffs in the case.
"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. There is no ‘science’ to show that these same measures are suddenly inadequate – especially when they are allowed for those with medical exemptions," he added.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., defended the mandate in a Tuesday statement about the order.
"My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that," she said. "I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe."