On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that New York state cannot impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on healthcare workers without allowing their employers to consider religious exemption requests. U.S. District Judge David Hurd in Albany, New York, ruled that the state’s workplace vaccination requirement conflicted with healthcare workers’ federally protected right to seek religious accommodations from their employers. Seventeen healthcare workers opposed to the mandate sued, saying the requirement violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution and a federal civil rights law requiring employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs. Hurd agreed, saying the state’s order “clearly” conflicted with their right to seek religious accommodations. Hurd issued a temporary restraining order on Sept. 14 in favor of the workers while he considered whether to issue a preliminary injunction.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul vowed in a statement to fight the decision, saying her “responsibility as governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that.” New York’s Department of Health on Aug. 26 ordered healthcare professionals to be vaccinated by Sept. 27 and the order did not allow for the customary religious exemptions.

At least 24 states have imposed vaccine requirements on workers, usually in healthcare. Vaccines have become highly politicized in the United States, where only 66% of Americans are vaccinated. Vaccine mandate opponents across the country are preparing to fight plans by President Joe Biden’s administration to extend COVID-19 inoculation requirements to tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans.

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