In a welcome move yesterday, the Supreme Court allowed the state of New York to maintain a COVID vaccine mandate for healthcare workers that didn’t include religious exemptions. Faith-based anti-vaxxers had challenged the regulation in two separate cases, but they were thankfully rebuffed. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas said they would’ve granted the application to hear one of the cases, but without a fourth judge on their side, that wasn’t on the table.
The other dismissal, with the same three justices against it, included a lengthy dissent from Gorsuch.
He argued that the mandate may have been issued out of “animosity” to unpopular religious beliefs, like the one that says the vaccine is immoral because it’s derived from fetal stem cell lines… even though the same cell lines have given rise to Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H, and Tums, which the same healthcare workers likely have no problem taking when needed. Gorsuch also claimed the mandate was “specifically directed at the applicants’ unorthodox religious beliefs and practices,” justifying that claim by referencing a speech made by Governor Kathy Hochul to a progressive congregation, praising them for getting vaccinated.
But the idea that a mandate that applied to everyone was somehow anti-religious?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation didn’t buy that argument for a second:
“This is like saying stop signs are specifically directed at religious drivers,” responds FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott. “To nitpick every remark of the governor in an attempt to claim that a general rule is targeting religion is to engage in an absurd exercise.”
The ultimate ruling — to refuse to hear this case — shouldn’t have been in doubt. It’s only because this Court has routinely allowed religious insanity to override public health concerns that there was a very real chance it could’ve gone the other way.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser expressed relief at the decision:
“The Supreme Court’s orders — the second and third in recent months rejecting requests to block a state’s vaccination requirements — honor our country’s constitutional principle of church-state separation, which protects religious freedom for everyone and ensures we are all treated equally under the law. Religious freedom is not a right to risk other people’s lives during a global pandemic that has already killed nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. These orders are in line with more than a century of court decisions that make clear the Constitution does not mandate religious exemptions from vaccination requirements.”
Just because your anti-vax beliefs are biblical in nature doesn’t give you the right to put people around you in danger. The Supreme Court didn’t necessarily agree with that sentiment, but for now, at least a majority didn’t oppose it. There are other challenges to vaccine mandates on the table, though, and these decisions could easily go in a different direction in the future.
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