NY Health Care Workers’ Shot Mandate Case Cries Out for Justice

Jul 14, 2023

NEW YORK, NY – Liberty Counsel filed a reply brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals this week rebutting the State of New York’s claim that its “proposed repeal” of the COVID-19 shot mandate makes a lawsuit “moot.” Liberty Counsel represents five New York health care workers fired for refusing the shot over their deeply held religious convictions. The defendants include Governor Kathy Hochul, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker, Trinity Health, Inc., New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, Inc., and Westchester Medical Center Advanced Physician Services, P.C.

New York required employers to force health care workers to get the COVID shots and prohibited them from granting religious exemptions, while permitting nonreligious medical exemptions. This mandate directly conflicts with the federal employment law known as Title VII. 

The Plaintiffs could not accept the COVID-19 shots due to their sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from accepting any shot associated with aborted fetal cell lines. The case was originally dismissed at the district court level and has been appealed to the Second Circuit. The State of New York seeks to dismiss the lawsuit and proposes to the Court to “send the plaintiffs home” because the case “will certainly be moot when the repeal process is complete.”

However, Liberty Counsel’s reply brief argues that since the mandate caused the health care workers to lose their jobs, even when there was relief available for them under the law in the form of a religious accommodation, irreparable harm has already been done.

Liberty Counsel states in the brief, “Despite any proposed repeal—an event not certain to occur—Plaintiffs have already suffered the constitutional injury imposed on them by the mandate… “[The] proposed repeals are not sufficient to moot a case because they have not happened yet. State defendants bear a ‘heavy burden’ in making it ‘absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.'" 

Despite religious protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the First Amendment, on August 26, 2021, the State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council took the specific step to eliminate religious exemptions and accommodations for the shot mandate.  In fact, under the state’s rule change, the only exemptions permitted in New York were for medical reasons documented by a physician or certified nurse practitioner.

The brief stated, “State Defendants imposed the Vaccine Mandate and manifested their hostility towards religious beliefs with explicit intentionality…Such intentionality, and State Defendants’ persistent defense of the mandate throughout this litigation create at least a reasonable likelihood that such a mandate will return in the future…[W]hen the government ceases a challenged policy without renouncing it, the voluntary cessation is less likely to moot the case.”

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “A mere statement that at some time in the future the COVID shot mandate will be repealed is not sufficient to moot this case. The State of New York has disregarded federal law and forced people to choose between their religious convictions and their livelihoods over an experimental injection – a clear violation that cries out for justice. All New York health care workers have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation. A blanket denial of all religious exemptions is unlawful.” 

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