Supreme Court lets vaccine mandate stand without religious exemption


HR King
May 29, 2001
Over the objection of three justices, the Supreme Court on Thursday left in place New York’s coronavirus vaccine requirement for health-care workers that does not include a religious exemption.
The court’s action came on the final day of the term, as the justices also announced which cases they will review when the court reconvenes in October. Notably, they declined to take additional cases concerning significant rulings this month to eliminate the nationwide right to abortion and expand the right to carry firearms in public. Instead, the justices returned to lower courts more than a half-dozen related matters and instructed those judges to look again at their rulings on the basis of the Supreme Court’s new guidance.
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In the New York vaccination case, the court had rejected in December an emergency request from doctors, nurses and other medical workers who said they were being forced to choose between their livelihoods and their faith. They said they should receive a religious exemption because the state’s rule allows one for those who decline the vaccine for medical reasons.
While the majority at the time did not give a reason for rejecting the emergency applications, three justices said they were eager to decide the merits of such a case. The court also had denied a similar request from health-care workers in Maine.
The same three justices — Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — objected Thursday to the court’s refusal to review the New York requirement that includes a medical exemption but no exception for religious objectors.
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Thomas noted in a dissent that federal and state governments have implemented emergency measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and many, he wrote, “were not neutral toward religious exercise.”
“There remains considerable confusion over whether a mandate, like New York’s, that does not exempt religious conduct can ever be neutral and generally applicable if it exempts secular conduct that similarly frustrates the specific interest that the mandate serves,” he wrote.
Thomas said his colleagues should provide guidance to lower courts “before the next crisis forces us again to decide complex legal issues in an emergency posture.”
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In the December order that refused to stop New York’s regulations, Gorsuch criticized New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) for rescinding a previous religious exemption.
“The State’s executive decree clearly interferes with the free exercise of religion — and does so seemingly based on nothing more than fear and anger at those who harbor unpopular religious beliefs,” Gorsuch wrote. “We allow the State to insist on the dismissal of thousands of medical workers — the very same individuals New York has depended on and praised for their service on the pandemic’s front lines over the last 21 months … One can only hope today’s ruling will not be the final chapter in this grim story.”
Oliver Harris, 9 months old, receives the coronavirus vaccine at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York on June 22, 2022. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Last August, New York announced the vaccine requirement for health-care 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’s Department of Health narrowed the medical exception and eliminated the one for religious objectors.
“Like longstanding similar state vaccination requirements for measles and rubella, DOH’s rule at issue here contains a single, limited medical exemption,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a brief to the Supreme Court.
“That medical exemption is limited in scope and duration, exempting solely those employees for whom the COVID-19 vaccine would be detrimental to their health based on a preexisting health condition, and lasting only until immunization is no longer detrimental to that worker’s health.”
Court documents indicated about 96 percent of the state’s health-care workers have been vaccinated. Of those remaining, far more were asserting religious objections rather than seeking medical exemptions.
“These applicants are not ‘anti-vaxxers’ who object to all vaccines,” Gorsuch wrote. “Instead, the applicants explain, they cannot receive a Covid-19 vaccine because their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the currently available vaccines has depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines in its production or testing.”
The state countered that the coronavirus vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells.
The case is Dr. A. v. Hochul.


Huey Grey

HR King
Jan 15, 2013
I've never understood why we let people circumvent the law simply because they are religious?


HR All-American
Jan 23, 2018
I've never understood why we let people circumvent the law simply because they are religious?
Well, we don’t always. But when we do it’s because it’s part of our core foundational law. There are really good reasons for that, but it’s a long history lesson.
Nov 28, 2010
Well, we don’t always. But when we do it’s because it’s part of our core foundational law. There are really good reasons for that, but it’s a long history lesson.
Letting religion overrule lifesaving public policy is not the point of separation.

But it sounds like the usual suspects are willing to risk thousands of American lives to protect the superstitions of other Americans.