If you want to send your child to public school in New York, you can’t claim a religious exemption from vaccinations under a law passed in 2019 and upheld in a state appeals court earlier this year.
The reason for that is that the greater societal need to protect the general public’s health and safety overrides your personal religious beliefs.
Scientists, doctors and every major medical organization in the world have determined that vaccines for diseases like smallpox, measles, covid and a dozen others are vital to protect the general public health.
Further, no major religion in the world — not Christianity, not Islam, not Judaism, not Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hinduism, Mormonism – has a statutory objection to mass vaccinations. Some, in fact, encourage vaccinations, saying the welfare of the community supersedes that of the individual. Some, including the Catholic Church, even believe it’s immoral not to vaccinate.
And time after time, for more than 115 years, the courts in this country have upheld that legal principle.
Yet a federal judge in Albany on Tuesday somehow decided to allow healthcare workers opposed to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s emergency vaccination mandate the right to seek a religious accommodation from their employers.
Under a preliminary injunction that bars the state and employers from mandating the vaccine for people claiming a religious exemption, the judge declared that the requirement conflicted with healthcare workers’ federally protected rights.
If the ruling is upheld, the judge not only will have defied legal precedent, the overwhelming consensus of the medical community and the views of the very religious organizations these objectors use to shield themselves from the mandate, but he also potentially put lives at risk.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the approach the new governor is using to protect the public health, one can’t disagree with her rationalization.
The covid pandemic is still raging across the country, it’s still a significant public health threat, and vaccine mandates for healthcare workers have proven to be a legitimate way to protect those workers and their patients from the virus and to help maintain an adequate level of staffing at medical facilities.
The Medical Society of the State of New York came out with a statement Tuesday strongly opposing the ruling, calling the vaccination requirements “essential to protecting public health, particularly the immunocompromised, the elderly, and those too young to receive the vaccination.”
The organization also noted the legal precedents and the lack of major opposition to vaccines by major religions.
The governor needs to have the power to protect the public health in emergency situations such as this pandemic. She should immediately appeal the ruling.
We expect the next court to do the right thing and uphold the mandate.