One of the issues is whether it is legal for the state to offer medical, but not religious, exemptions.
What have the courts done so far?
Much of the focus is on the Utica Federal District Court, where 17 plaintiffs – including doctors and nurses – argued that the state’s mandate restricts their First Amendment right to practice their religion and infringes on federal anti-discrimination law.
“When you grant an exemption and withdraw it a few days later, it indicates targeting of religion,” Utica plaintiffs attorney Christopher Ferrara said in an interview.
Judge in charge of the case, David N. Hurd, has temporarily banned the state from trying to force a hospital or nursing home to fire a worker seeking religious exemption.
But under Judge Hurd’s order, hospitals can refuse to grant religious exemptions, and nothing prevents them from sacking unvaccinated workers who have requested them, lawyers for the plaintiffs say. Still, some hospital systems, such as NewYork-Presbyterian, have indicated they will take no action against employees with pending requests for religious exemptions as long as Judge Hurd’s order remains in effect.
Judge Hurd has indicated he will render a more comprehensive decision within two weeks.
The litigation in Utica is not the only pending lawsuit. Another lawsuit, filed on behalf of two Long Island nurses and a healthcare worker in Syracuse, reached a federal appeals court in Manhattan on Wednesday. The case was brought by We The Patriots USA, Inc., an organization whose co-founder is an attorney who has been involved in litigation over vaccine requirements in Connecticut.
In oral arguments before a panel of Second Circuit judges on Wednesday, plaintiffs’ attorney Cameron Atkinson said two of the healthcare workers – nurses at Syosset Hospital on Long Island – worked shifts no later than Tuesday evening. But their jobs were in imminent danger, he said, explaining that the two “had been informed that they would be made redundant on an ongoing basis.”