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Court rules against N.Y. health workers seeking exemption to vaccine mandate

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Court rules against N.Y. health workers seeking exemption to vaccine mandate
Dr. Michelle Chester fills a syringe with the fluid from a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center Northwell Health in New York City. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 30 (UPI) -- A federal appellate court has lifted a temporary injunction that prevented New York from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccination mandate on healthcare workers seeking religious exemptions.

Three judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against plaintiffs in two cases healthcare workers brought challenging the mandate based on religious beliefs.

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"On Day One, I pledged as governor to battle this pandemic and take bold action to protect the health of all New Yorkers," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement on the ruling. "I commend the 2nd Circuit's findings affirming our first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep New Yorkers safe."

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the mandate in August before Hochul's swearing in. It requires all employees at healthcare institutions and long-term care facilities to receive at least a first dose COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, "with limited exceptions for those with religious and medical reasons." At the time, 75% of the state's approximately 450,000 hospital workers, 74% of the state's approximately 30,000 adult care facility workers and 68% of the state's approximately 145,000 nursing home workers were completely vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Attorneys representing three nurses challenging the mandate told WABC-TV in New York City they plan to appeal.

"New York's mandate forces an abominable choice on New York healthcare workers: abandon their faith or lose their careers," the attorneys said. "Diane Bono, Michelle Melendez, and Michelle Synakowski have refused to buy one-way tickets to hell on the hysteria express. They have committed their futures to God's hands, and we remain optimistic that the United States Supreme Court will strike down New York's discriminatory mandate as violating the First Amendment."

In a similar case in Maine, the Supreme Court on Friday night denied a request for an emergency injunction to block a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers that did not include a religious exemption. Three conservative justices -- Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas -- took issue with it not including the exemption. Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided instead with the majority in the case for procedural reasons, explaining that it was brought up on the emergency docket without full briefings or oral arguments presented.

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