Supreme Court allows vaccine mandate without religious exemption

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Despite the objection of three justices, the Supreme Court left in place on Thursday New York’s coronavirus vaccine requirement for healthcare workers that drew a challenge on his lack of religious exemption.

The court order came on the last day of his term, as the judges also announced their final rulings and additional cases they will consider when the court reconvenes in October. In particular, they refused to hear arguments related to landmark decisions this month that eliminate the nation’s right to abortion and expand the right to carry firearms in public.

Instead, judges returned to lower courts over half a dozen Questions. They threw past rulings upholding state limits on guns and blocking some abortion restrictions, asking judges to reconsider those rulings based on new directions from the Supreme Court. The court orders mean judges will have to revisit Second Amendment rulings that authorized Maryland’s ban on military-style semi-automatic firearms, passed after the 2012 mass shooting at a Newtown elementary school, in Connecticut, and prohibits gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 ammunition in California and New Jersey.

Separately, lower courts will have to reconsider measures in Arizona and Arkansas that ban abortions performed for fetal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, and an Indiana law expanding parental notification requirements before a minor terminates a pregnancy. All three laws were blocked from going into effect before the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade Last week.

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In the New York vaccination case, the court in December denied an emergency request from doctors, nurses and other medical workers who said they were forced to choose between their livelihoods and their faith. They said they should receive a religious exemption because the state rule allows one for those who refuse the vaccine for medical reasons.

While the majority at the time gave no reason to reject the emergency applications, three justices said they were eager to rule on the merits of such a case. The court had also denied a similar claim from Maine healthcare workers.

The same three justices — Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — on Thursday objected to the court’s refusal to review New York’s requirement that includes a medical exemption but no exception for religious objectors.

Supreme Court won’t stop vaccination mandate for New York healthcare workers

Thomas noted in a dissent that federal and state governments implemented emergency measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and many, he wrote, “were not neutral toward the exercise. religious”.

“There remains considerable confusion as to whether a mandate, such as New York’s, which does not exempt religious conduct can ever be neutral and generally enforceable if it exempts secular conduct which similarly frustrates the interest specific that the mandate serves,” he wrote.

Thomas said his colleagues should provide guidance to lower courts “before the next crisis again forces us to decide complex legal issues in an emergency posture.”

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In the December order refusing to stop New York’s regulations, Gorsuch criticized New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) for overriding an earlier religious exemption.

“The state executive order clearly interferes with the free exercise of religion – and apparently does so out of nothing more than fear and anger against those who hold unpopular religious beliefs,” Gorsuch wrote. . “We allow the state to insist on laying off thousands of medical workers – the same people New York has relied on and praised for their service on the front lines of the pandemic.”

Last August, New York announced a requirement to vaccinate healthcare workers, with exceptions for religious and medical reasons. But eight days later, after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the state health department narrowed the medical exception and eliminated the one for religious objectors.

“Like the state’s longstanding similar vaccination requirements for measles and rubella, the DOH rule at issue here contains a single, limited medical exemption,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. brief to the Supreme Court.

“This medical exemption is limited in scope and duration, exempting only those employees for whom the COVID-19 vaccine would be detrimental to their health due to a pre-existing medical condition, and will only last until the vaccination no longer be detrimental to the worker’s health.”

Court documents say about 96% of health care workers in the state have been vaccinated. Of those who remained, many more argued religious objections than sought medical exemptions.

In his dissent on Thursday, Thomas wrote that the 16 healthcare workers who sued have served New York communities throughout the pandemic and “oppose on religious grounds all available COVID-19 vaccines because ‘they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children’.

The state countered that coronavirus vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells.

The case is Dr A.c. Hochul.

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