Fed judge blocks state vaccine mandate but only for healthcare workers who claim religious exemption

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order regarding the state’s mandate to have employees in health care facilities vaccinated by the end of the month.

The most important word there is — temporary.

And the order only applies to health care industry workers who claim a religious exemption.

It does not apply to everyone.

Seventeen health care employees filed a lawsuit in Utica Monday.

According to the lawsuit, they only go by Doctor "A", Nurse "B", Therapist "I."

Four are from Western New York. Sixteen of them are Catholic. One is Baptist. And in their complaint, it says "it would be a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs and moral consciences to take any of the available COVID-19 vaccines given their use of abortion-derived fetal cell lines in testing, development, or production."

Tuesday Federal Judge David Hurd in Utica granted a temporary restraining order.

One of the lawyers told News10NBC’s Berkeley Brean the temporary restraining order only applies to employees claiming or seeking a religious exemption.

"The New York mandate strips away an employee’s right to apply for a religious exemption in the workplace," Attorney Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society said.

The temporary restraining order does not go into effect until Sept. 27 the day the state mandate said every health care system employee must have at least one shot. A hearing is scheduled in federal court for Sept. 28, so the order will go into effect for at least one day.

The mandate has prompted protests including this one outside Strong Hospital Monday.

Amanda Coakley is a physical therapist at Rochester General Hospital. At the protest, she told us she got COVID last winter, still has the antibodies, doesn’t get the flu shot, and is willing to wear a mask.

"Now it’s you get the shot or you’re out. Well, then I guess you have to be out because I’m not getting the shot," she said.

But unless Coakley and all the other protesters here claim a religious exemption, the restraining order does not apply to them.

Today, we received a statement from URMC which included this:

"We are currently developing and adjusting contingency plans based on many variables, including today’s ruling by a federal judge in Utica regarding the vaccine mandate. We will continue planning as a system to maintain high-quality patient care with minimal disruptions as the mandate deadline approaches, and will communicate more extensively as the impact of this ruling and other details become clear."

URMC says 91% of its staff is vaccinated. It’s 85% at Rochester Regional Health System.

Attorney Ferrara said California has a religious exemption tied to its vaccine mandate.

The Catholic Church says it is "morally acceptable" to take the COVID-19 vaccines.