Critics of vaccine mandates are cheering over federal judge’s ruling

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Critics of coronavirus mandates are cheering over a federal judge’s ruling that puts some vaccine requirements on hold.

On Tuesday, the judge placed a temporary restraining order regarding the state’s mandate to have employees in health care facilities vaccinated by the end of the month. The order only applies to health care industry workers who claim a religious exemption.

Some of those critics cheered after charges were dropped against local radio personality Shannon Joy for her arrest when she spoke out against mask requirements at a Fairport school board meeting.

Many of them also see promise in the new order against the state’s vaccine mandates.

"I think we are moving in the right direction,” exclaimed one supporter, who would identify herself only as “Diane.”

In his decision, Federal District Judge David Hurd in Utica says the state can’t prohibit medical workers from taking religious exemptions to the requirement that they all get at least their first vaccine shot by Sept. 27 or lose their jobs.

"I think it’s a bit of an overreach, to begin with, but definitely religious exemptions should exist because religious freedom is a protected class,” said Kelly Hooge of Penfield.

Rochester employment lawyer Paul Keneally says the law generally favors people who try to get religious exemptions.

“They are pretty easy to establish,” he said. “The cases are relatively favorable to the employees who are claiming a sincere belief. It doesn’t have to be an established, well-known, religion. It just needs to be a sincerely held religious belief against getting a vaccine.”

Some mandate critics say allowing religious exceptions doesn’t go far enough and could even undermine the campaign against mandates.

“I don’t think mandates should be classified simply as religious exemptions, I think there should be no mandates whatsoever,” said George Gerspacher of Chili “If exemptions are given to some of them, and not the rest, that would fractionate the bloc.”

In a statement, the University of Rochester Medical Center says: "We are currently developing and adjusting contingency plans based on many variables, including [Tuesday’s] ruling… and will communicate more extensively as the impact of this ruling and other details become clear."

Keneally suggests employers at least prepare to give those religious exceptions.

“Perhaps they will set up an application system,” he said, “or some sort of system to start saying he’s going to make that application and who won’t. It’s probably a good idea for them.”

Judge Hurd gave the state until Sept. 22 to reply to his temporary restraining order.

If the state plans to challenge it, oral arguments would take place in court on Sept. 28.