Citing religious beliefs, lawsuit challenges NYC vaccine mandate

New York Jewish Week via JTA – Five Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers have joined a lawsuit challenging the city’s vaccine requirements for indoor spaces.

Two of the plaintiffs are rabbis from yeshivas. The lawsuit, filed Feb. 7 in New York, challenges the “Key to NYC” program and a recent COVID vaccination mandate for religious and private school employees. The mandate was opposed by many Haredi Orthodox yeshivas and groups representing them, including Agudath Israel of America.

Three of the Jewish plaintiffs are parents who are suing on behalf of a total of 12 of their children, all minors, whose COVID vaccinations they oppose on what they claim are religious grounds.

The anonymous plaintiffs allege an “unprecedented abuse of power” regarding COVID vaccine requirements for indoor spaces in the city. The plaintiffs, which also include a Catholic New York resident, oppose the vaccine on religious and constitutional grounds.

The Catholic and Orthodox Jewish plaintiffs claim the vaccines are derived from research on fetal cell lines from abortions in the 1970s and 1980s, a technology they oppose on religious grounds. Another religious ground cited by Orthodox Jewish plaintiffs is that “[s]submitting to a government dictating that the terms of freedom on vaccination is a form of slavery and subjugation” that “violates many Torah commandments that require remembering and internalizing the great Exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Groups representing major Jewish denominations, including the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, have all released statements endorsing the vaccines, and many rabbis in the Haredi Orthodox community have participated in campaigns aimed at increasing rates of vaccination in their communities. Yet Orthodox medical professionals and communal leaders note that a vocal minority in their community will disregard their advice.

The “Key to NYC” program introduced by former Mayor Bill De Blasio requires proof of vaccination for a variety of indoor activities, including dining, gyms and entertainment. (Angela Weiss/Getty Images via JTA)

The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic nonprofit that earlier in the pandemic represented New York’s Orthodox Jews in a lawsuit opposing caps on the number of attendees who can attend the venues. of worship. In that case, a judge stopped the state from imposing stricter rules on places of worship than on other businesses.

In November 2020, in a case brought by Agudath Israel, the Supreme Court ruled that occupancy restrictions and mandates unfairly discriminate against religious institutions.

The Thomas More Society has filed a number of lawsuits across the country to oppose vaccine requirements, including representing New York state healthcare workers who have been denied a vaccine exemption. for religious reasons.

If successful, the lawsuit would allow yeshiva employees to stay on or return to work without a vaccine, as well as congregate indoors and access the same spaces as vaccinated New Yorkers without discrimination.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Dr. Dave Choski, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, are named in the lawsuit.

The suit claims that the Key to NYC program creates a two-tiered society within the city, where unvaccinated residents are unable to participate in daily life or institutions, and that the program violates due process rights, equal protection, privacy, freedom of assembly and free exercise of religion.

Members of the Orthodox community speak with NYPD officers in the Borough Park neighborhood of the borough of Brooklyn in New York, Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“Never in the history of this country, or in the history of pandemics in general, has any government declared an entire class of citizens personae non gratae on the basis of refusing to be vaccinated,” the attorney wrote. Thomas More Society Special, Christopher Ferrara, in a press release. “What we see here is the sad corruption of public health policy by power politics.”

The complaint also alleges that Key to NYC provides exemptions to secular activities and discriminates against religious activities, and discriminates against those who argue that COVID-19 vaccinations violate their religion.

Marc Stern, the legal director of the American Jewish Committee, does not see enough evidence for the religious freedom claim, and said that several of the other claims in the lawsuit, including that the Key to NYC program violates the right to a person’s privacy, are groundless.

“I can’t say the costume is completely frivolous, and there are definitely some concerning aspects in the hosting guidelines, where some of the lines aren’t crisp and clean,” Stern said. However, “the court has repeatedly ruled that in the event of an epidemic, the government has wide latitude as to what it can do to balance public health guidelines with what will benefit the economy. I am reasonably certain that this matter will not receive a sympathetic response, and these lines shall prevail.

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