Health care workers in New York have gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the state’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, arguing it violates their religious liberty rights.
This challenge is nearly identical to a recent case brought by health care workers in Maine. Last week, the court allowed Maine’s mandate to go forward over the objection of three justices.
The latest dispute is brought by a nurse, Diana Bono, who lost her job because she has religious objections to the mandate, as well as two others who say they face the “imminent loss” of their employment and a group called We The Patriots USA Inc.
They are suing the state, arguing that while the mandate allows an exemption for those with medical objections, there is no exemption for people with religious objections.
The nurses object to the vaccines because of their distant relation to fetal cell lines developed from abortions in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said last December in a note approved by Pope Francis that receiving the shot was morally permitted. “It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” the note said.
The nurses say they are “devout Christians” who “object to deriving any benefit – no matter how remote – from a process involving abortion.”
New York’s mandate requires all state health care workers to receive the vaccine, and allows an exemption only for those with medical exemptions.
A lawyer for the nurses said the mandate violates the First Amendment because it requires employers to terminate health care workers who “refuse a vaccine because of their religious beliefs” but offers an exemption to those workers who refuse based on a medical objection.
Last month, the Supreme Court denied a request to block the Maine rule, but the court’s right wing – Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – dissented and would have halted the mandate while the appeals process plays out.
Writing for his two conservative colleagues, Gorsuch pointed to the fact that “unlike comparable rules in most states,” Maine’s rule contained no exemption for those whose “sincerely held religious beliefs preclude them from accepting the vaccine.”
He said that workers “who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months, are now being fired and their practices shuttered,” all for “adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs”
He added: “Their plight is worthy of our attention.”
This story has been updated with additional details.