Hospital workers challenge NY COVID vaccine mandate with help from RFK Jr.
ALBANY – Healthcare workers who were suspended from their jobs at a Binghamton hospital are now suing New York Governor Kathy Hochul over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate with help from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy, a longtime promoter of scientifically disputed anti-vaccine material, is listed as a supporting lawyer for the lawsuit filed in federal court in Albany on Friday by four anonymous health workers from the Lourdes hospital.
Lourdes, which is part of the Ascension health system, placed the four workers – two doctors, a nurse and a scientist, all Catholics – on unpaid leave after the state mandate came into effect last week , rejecting their request for religious exemption, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is one of many filed against the Hochul administration’s demand that healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID, which went into effect on September 27.
But this lawsuit is unique in its approach, attempting to use Hochul’s recent comments at a Brooklyn mega-church to bolster the plaintiffs’ claims that the warrant unconstitutionally violates their religious rights.
At the Christian Cultural Center on September 26, Hochul said that God “has answered our prayers” by forcing the best scientists and researchers to come up with the COVID vaccine. Vaccines, she said, are “from God to us.”
“There are a lot of people who don’t listen to God and what God wants,” Hochul said, an apparent reference to those who resist vaccines.
The lawsuit, filed by senior lawyer Sujata Gibson of Ithaca, argues that Lourdes employees’ request for religious exemption should not have been denied simply because they do not align with Hochul or Pope Francis , which encouraged vaccination.
“Governor Hochul’s statements and actions irreparably violate the line between Church and State,” the lawsuit reads. “Our democracy is under serious threat if this type of rhetoric, irresponsible disregard of federal court orders and persecution of religious minorities is allowed to occur unchecked.”
Each of the plaintiffs requested an exemption from the vaccination mandate, believing they would be committing a “grave sin” by taking any of the COVID vaccines due to the use of fetal cell lines in research and development.
None of the three available vaccines contain fetal cell tissue, although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used laboratory-grown cells whose roots go back to fetal cells decades ago, according to the UCLA health system. Pfizer and Moderna used similar cells grown in the lab to test their vaccines.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said it may be “morally acceptable” to take one of the clinically approved COVID vaccines, although he expressed preference for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Ascension is one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Hochul, meanwhile, defended the vaccine’s mandate and said it was legally strong. She also defended the state’s decision to block all religious warrant exemptions, although this is currently suspended by a federal court order.
“My number one job as governor is to ensure the safety of the people of this state,” Hochul said on September 30. – all over New York in health centers, hospitals and nursing homes – needed to be vaccinated. It was the right thing to do.
Kennedy, meanwhile, is listed as an “advisor” to the lawsuit, supporting Gibson, the lead lawyer.
He is the founder of Children’s Health Defense, an organization that has supported many challenges related to immunization mandates.
Jon Campbell is the New York State team editor for the USA TODAY Network. He can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
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