WASHINGTON: The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (June 30) rejected a challenge to New York’s mandate that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, filed by a group of doctors, nurses and others who objected to religious grounds.
By dismissing an appeal from 16 health professionals, the judges upheld a lower court ruling rejecting their claim that the mandate violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition against government religious discrimination. Most employees quit their jobs, lost hospital rights, or were fired for refusing the vaccine.
Conservative judges Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch disagreed with the decision to dismiss the appeal.
The Supreme Court previously dismissed other challenges to vaccine mandates, including one that focused on the lack of a religious exemption for health professionals in Maine.
Last August 26, the New York Department of Health ordered healthcare professionals who come into contact with patients or other employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a safety measure during a pandemic that has killed more than one million Americans.
The state allows a limited medical exemption for the small number of people who have a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines.
The state has said that under the policy, employers can consider religious housing requests and employees can be assigned to jobs such as remote work. Health professionals in the state are also subject to similar measles and rubella vaccine mandates, which also have no religious exemptions.
The dispute started when a group of doctors, nurses, therapists and other health professionals – mostly Catholics – sued in federal court under pseudonyms. Among the plaintiffs, three doctors lost eligibility rights, seven health care providers were fired or resigned, five chose to be vaccinated “under protest” and one was eventually granted a medical exemption.
In all, according to state data, nearly 37,000 health workers in New York have resigned, retired, or been fired or fired for not being vaccinated.
The plaintiffs have said they object to any COVID-19 vaccine whose testing or development relied on cell lines from aborted fetuses.
The COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States do not contain aborted fetal cells. Lab-grown cells derived from the cells of an aborted fetus obtained decades ago were used in testing during the vaccine development process. The Vatican advised Catholics in 2020 that it is morally acceptable to use COVID-19 vaccines.
New York noted in a legal filing that the use of such cell lines for testing is common, including for the rubella vaccine, which health professionals already use.
The Manhattan-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs’ bid for injunctive relief, finding last November that the mandate applied neutrally to everyone and was unlikely to be biased against religion.