December 17, 2021

Gorsuch Dissent Cites Religious Liberty As Supreme Court Allows New York Vaccine Mandate

The US Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of New York's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers. The mandate allows exemptions for medical reasons but not religious ones. Gorsuch wrote a dissent criticizing the Court for violating the religious liberty rights of those who object to the currently-available COVID-19 vaccines for their connection with abortion.

The court decided 6-3 to reject the requests of health care workers who filed petitions to the Supreme Court for religious exemptions. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh sided with Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented. Only Gorsuch wrote an opinion, with which Alito joined.

“The Free Exercise Clause protects not only the right to hold unpopular religious beliefs inwardly and secretly. It protects the right to live out those beliefs publicly in ‘the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts,’” Gorsuch wrote in his dissent.

The Supreme Court refused to block a similar mandate in Maine during a ruling in October.

“Six weeks ago, this Court refused relief in a case involving Maine’s healthcare workers,” Gorsuch wrote. “Today, the Court repeats the mistake by turning away New York’s doctors and nurses.”

Gorsuch criticized New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's handling of the mandate in his dissent.
“The new Governor announced that the decision to eliminate the exemption was ‘intentiona[l]’ and justified because no ‘organized religion’ sought it and individuals who did were not ‘listening to God and what God wants.’ Now, thousands of New York healthcare workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits.”

“Twenty of them have filed suit arguing that the State’s conduct violates the First Amendment and asking us to enjoin the enforcement of the mandate against them until this Court can decide their petition for certiorari. Respectfully, I believe they deserve that relief.”

Gov. Hochul, much like pro-abortion President Joe Biden, identifies as Catholic. 

“These applicants are not ‘anti-vaxxers’ who object to all vaccines,” Gorsuch wrote. “Instead, the applicants explain, they cannot receive a COVID–19 vaccine because their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the currently available vaccines has depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines in its production or testing.”

37,000 New York healthcare workers have left their jobs as a result of the mandate. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul had to call on the National Guard to assist short-staffed nursing homes.