‘It’s a blow to, you know, their careers that they love’: Reactions to the court’s ruling on religious exemptions

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A big loss in court Friday for healthcare workers with a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit removed it ending all religious exemptions in New York.

The state said these workers had to be vaccinated by Sept. 27. Then an injunction was granted, and a judge in Utica upheld it until mid-October. As of Friday afternoon, the original mandate is back in effect.

When health care workers across the state were first granted a religious exemption, unvaccinated employees like Dawn Fox from Unity Hospital welcomed it with open arms. The injunction temporarily helped save their jobs.

"This is not my main income, but a lot of my co-workers, and a lot of my close friends that, this is their livelihood," Fox said.

After the injunction was lifted by a Federal Appellate Court, News10NBC contacted We The Patriots USA, Incorporation. An organization fighting the mandate. Vice President and Co-Founder Brian Festa said he’s deeply disappointed with the court’s decision.

"We disagree with the decision because we believe that there is no public health exception to the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion," Festa said.

He said right now the only option available is medical exemptions.

"We find that deeply troubling because of the fact that, that’s saying if you have a secular reason, in other words, a medical reason for asking to be exempted from the shot, that’s okay," Festa said.

Now with the original vaccine mandate of Sept. 27 back in effect, jobs are back at stake.

"It’s a blow to, you know, their careers that they love," Festa said. "I mean these health care workers, many of them, most of them are really, really passionate about what they do."

We The Patriots USA are not done with this Court’s decision.

"We fully intend to file an emergency petition to the United States Supreme Court," Festa said.

Friday’s ruling is in response to New York State’s appeal of the exemption. Gov. Kathy Hochul released this statement saying, "On day one, I pledged as governor to battle this pandemic and take bold action to protect the health of all New Yorkers. I commend the Second 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."

We The Patriot USA’s emergency petition to the US Supreme court is expected to be filed sometime next week.