Breaking: I just checked the docket of the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of New York by the Thomas More Society, challenging NY State’s mandate of healthcare workers, which DID NOT allow for a religious exemption. The Court had previously issued a temporary restraining order, and today was the hearing on whether a preliminary injunction would be granted, continuing the Court’s injunction blocking the mandate. The Court ruled in favor of the healthcare workers, blocking the mandate. Here’s the ruling, just issued:
Defendants also argue that § 2.61’s elimination of the religious exemption language found in the August 18 Order brings it more in line with healthcare workplace immunization requirements for measles and rubella. Although fetal cell lines were used in the development of the rubella vaccine, there is no religious exemption in the State regulations that require workers to be immunized against this pathogen. Rausch-Phung Decl. ¶¶ 44, 47–48.
However, this argument conflates the merits of plaintiffs’ present constitutional claims with a hypothetical Title VII anti-discrimination claim for a religious accommodation. What matters here is not whether a religious practitioner would win or lose a future Title VII lawsuit. What matters is that plaintiffs’ current showing establishes that § 2.61 has effectively foreclosed the pathway to seeking a religious accommodation that is guaranteed under Title VII.
However, there is no adequate explanation from defendants about why the “reasonable accommodation” that must be extended to a medically exempt healthcare worker under § 2.61 could not similarly be extended to a healthcare worker with a sincere religious objection. Fulton, 141 S. Ct. at 1881 (cautioning courts to “scrutinize[ ] the asserted harm of granting specific exemptions to particular religious claimants”).
As plaintiffs point out, defendants have not shown that granting the same benefit to religious practitioners that was originally included in the August 18 Order “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 and exercising other proper protocols in effectively slowing the spread of the disease.”