October 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A board affiliated with the New York State Department of Health voted unanimously Aug. 26 to require all health care workers in the state to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with no religious exemptions offered.

The vote by the Public Health and Health Planning Council formally adopts a regulation announced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has since resigned his office in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Although there had been some discussion over offering religious exemptions from the vaccine policy, the board voted not to permit them. It announced that any religious exemptions given previously are no longer valid, reported the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Vanessa Murphy, an attorney for the Department of Health, said she believes the state is on firm legal footing.

“We’re not constitutionally required to provide a religious exemption,” Murphy said. “You see that with the measles and the mumps requirement for health care workers.”

However, a federal court put a hold on New York’s vaccine mandate Sept. 14, temporarily siding with several health care professionals who are demanding religious exemptions. (Dr. A v. Hochul)

Americans United’s Legal Department is filing a brief in the case, arguing that New York officials may legally end the religious exemptions.

Government officials in conservative states continue to resist public health measures to contain the virus. Governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona, all Republicans, have issued orders banning public schools and local jurisdictions from requiring masks.

In Mississippi, a state that has a low rate of vaccinations and spiking COVID cases, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) sent a mixed message in late August when he urged residents to get vaccinated but also said that many Mississippians don’t fear the virus because they believe they will go to heaven after death.

“I’m often asked by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle about COVID … and why does it seem like folks in Mississippi and maybe in the mid-South are a little less scared, shall we say,” Reeves said during a fundraising event near Memphis, Tenn. “When you believe in eternal life, when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don’t have to be so scared of things.”