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Court rules unvaccinated hospital workers in New York can continue to claim religious exemption for now

Colleen Laico, from Kingston, NY, a medical professional at the ER at Kingston Hospital, receives her COVID-19 vaccination at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, December 18, 2020
Courtesy of the Office of Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan
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Colleen Laico, from Kingston, NY, a medical professional at the ER at Kingston Hospital, receives her COVID-19 vaccination at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, December 18, 2020

New York State must temporarily continue to allow religious exemptions for health care workers who say their faith prevents them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. A new federal court ruling extends the moratorium on that portion of Governor Kathy Hochul’s vaccine mandate for hospital workers until a full court proceeding can be held.

The decision comes in lawsuit filed by 17 health care workers. They say they should not have to obey Hochul’s order that all hospital workers were to be vaccinated by September 27, because their religion prevents them from getting the shot.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge David Hurd, who is based in Utica, says the health care workers who sued have raised a legitimate question of whether the state’s requirement conflicts with their federally protected right to seek religious accommodation from their employers.

Hochul has said she does not believe a religious exemption is a valid reason to not get the shot.

The court decision keeps the rest of the vaccine mandate in place, it only continues to allow for the health care workers to claim a religious exemption until the matter is fully settled in a trial.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Gov. Hochul has extended the vaccine mandate to other health care workers, including hospice care employees and home health aides.

The governor responded in a statement later Tuesday.

"My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that, "Hochul said. "I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe."

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