New York nurses fighting state's vaccine mandate take case to U.S. Supreme Court
Three nurses ask the justices for an emergency injunction seeking to block the mandate.
Three New York nurses who objected to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine due to their religious beliefs have taken their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s a result of a federal appellate panel striking down an injunction late last week against a statewide order requiring medical professionals working with patients to be vaccinated.
Lawyers representing Diane Bono, Michelle Melendez and Michelle Synakowski filed an emergency application for an injunction against the vaccine mandate as they ask the nation's highest court to review the case. The plaintiffs are members of We the Patriots USA, a nonprofit that seeks to protect and defend individual rights. The group is also listed as a plaintiff in the case.
The filing appeared on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket Tuesday evening.
“We will have already begun planning our next move if this step fails, but we remain optimistic that the United States Supreme Court will put a stop to this blatant religious discrimination in New York,” attorney Cameron Atkinson wrote in a blog post.
All three have objections to taking the existing COVID-19 vaccines because they were either developed with or tested against cell lines derived from aborted fetal cells.
Their case, initially filed in U.S. District Court for New York’s Eastern District, was combined at the appellate level with a case in New York’s Northern District federal court. The 17 healthmcare workers in that case won the statewide injunction last month that prompted the state’s appeal.
The filing before the U.S. Supreme Court said that Bono, who has worked for nearly 40 years, lost her job after Northwell Health because of the state’s order. Melendez is currently on medical leave from Northwell but fears being let go because of her unvaccinated status.
Synakowski received a religious exemption from St. Joseph’s Hospital before the state amended its mandate in late August. The hospital rescinded its exemption after the state removed the faith-based exemption from the order in late August.
Synakowski faced termination on Sept. 21, but the restraining order and ensuing injunction in the Northern District led the hospital to reinstate the exemption. However, last Friday’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision means she faces termination once again.
In remanding the cases back to their respective district courts, the circuit court panel ruled that New York officials had the right to remove the exemption. In addition, the state also argued that private employers did not have to terminate unvaccinated workers. Instead, employers could assign them work that does not involve direct contact with patients.
In a statement after the panel’s ruling, Gov. Kathy Hochul said the order was necessary as the state continues to deal with the pandemic and the more contagious delta variant.
“On Day One, I pledged as Governor to battle this pandemic and take bold action to protect the health of all New Yorkers,” she said. “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.”
Lawyers with the Thomas More Society, the nonprofit law firm representing the 17 health care workers in northern New York, were not immediately available for comment.
Similar to the arguments made in the Northern District case, attorneys for the three nurses said they have had their First Amendment rights violated since the state has maintained exemptions for those unvaccinated due to medical concerns.
“Rather than create a system of reasonable accommodation, they have created a system of unreasonable termination,” the emergency application stated.
The nation’s top court recently decided against hearing a similar case involving health care workers in Maine as only three justices agreed to proceed. It requires four justices to agree for a case to proceed.
Lawyers for the three nurses told the court they believe there is a difference between their case and the one from Maine.
“The change has its roots in the Respondents’ hostility toward the particular religious beliefs that the Applicants hold, and this key difference,” the application stated.
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