Gov. Kathy Hochul says there are no legitimate religious objections; Thomas More Society’s Christopher Ferrara accuses her of bullying and ‘strong-arm’ tactics.War of words over New York’s compulsory COVID vaccines – Catholic World Report
The war over compulsory COVID-19 shots for health care workers spilled from the federal courtroom onto the streets of the Bronx as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul stated her intention to replace health care workers who refuse the gene-serum shots and are fired as a result. Hochul appeared unconcerned about the temporary restraining order by U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd that bars the state from enforcing the vaccine policy that officially took effect Sept. 27.
“Today is a significant deadline,” Hochul said at a press conference. “It reflects my priority to stop this virus dead in its tracks. We are over it, we are done and we want to move on, and the only way we can do that is to ensure that everyone is vaccinated, but particularly individuals who take care of the people who are sick.”
Under then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York had a policy that allowed health care workers with sincerely held religious objections to refuse to take the COVID-19 shots. That policy changed under Hochul, who was sworn into office Aug. 24 after Cuomo resigned amid a sexual-harassment scandal. The new policy allows no religious exemptions, and gave health care workers until Sept. 27 to show proof of their first COVID shot. The mandate prompted two federal lawsuits by health care workers: one filed by the Thomas More Society in the Northern District of New York and another filed by Liberty Counsel in the Eastern District of New York.
Judge Hurd extended the restraining order until Oct. 12 and said he will rule before then on Thomas More Society’s request for a preliminary injunction against New York and the vaccine mandate. A hearing has been set for Oct. 19 in the federal court’s Eastern District in the Liberty Counsel case on behalf of 1,500 health care workers who challenge the shot mandate.
In her Monday press event, Hochul blamed unvaccinated health care workers for the looming staff shortages sure to occur if hundreds or even thousands of care workers are fired or resign for refusing the COVID shot. She also discounted the notion of a religious exception to the shot policy.
“There are not legitimate religious exemptions, because the leaders of all the organized religions have said there’s no legitimate reason,” Hochul said, “and we’re going to win that in court in a matter of days. This is so unnecessary.”
Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Christopher A. Ferrara, Thomas More Society special counsel, who accused the governor of strong-arm tactics and demagoguery.
“New York’s Governor Hochul is using every strong-arm tactic she can to attempt to coerce employees into taking vaccines against their will,” Ferrara said in a statement. “She is also demonstrating disrespect, at a minimum, if not outright hostility to the deeply held religious convictions of our clients as well as thousands of others. We have solid grounds for prevailing on our motion for a preliminary injunction.”
A group of 16 Catholic and one Baptist health care workers filed suit against Gov. Hochul and the State of New York on Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court in Utica, N.Y. Judge Hurd issued the restraining order less than 24 hours later. The plaintiffs include doctors, nurses, medical technologists, a cognitive rehabilitation therapist and a physician’s liaison. At the time, Ferrara ripped the State of New York for what he called “a flagrantly illegal mandate from constitutionally clueless government bureaucrats.”
Although the Catholic Hochul scoffed at the idea of religious exemptions to the coercive shot policy, she cloaked her arguments for the shots in religious overtones. Appearing at a Baptist assembly, Hochul told attendees to be “not just the true believers, but our apostles to go out there and spread the word that we can get out of this once and for all if everybody gets vaccinated.” At a Christian center in Brooklyn, she told a gathering that health care workers refusing the vaccines “aren’t listening to God and what God wants.”
Ferrara said the governor’s message amounts to coercion. “The Governor’s bullying is intended to coerce as many as possible into taking the vaccine before the court rules,” Ferrara said. “And now she threatens to declare a state of emergency based on the emergency she herself has created by calling for the firing of dedicated front line health care workers who were yesterday’s heroes but are suddenly pariahs because they will not bend to the governor’s arbitrary will.”
“The same doctors and nurses who treated patients for 18 months without being vaccinated—often contracting COVID, recovering, and returning to front line medical care—are now being depicted as disease-carrying villains,” Ferrara said. “This is not science. This is demagoguery.”
Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said, “All New York health care workers have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious beliefs, and forcing COVID shots without any religious exemptions is unlawful. We look forward to presenting this evidence in court on behalf of these employees who are being unlawfully bullied.”
Hochul said she would sign an emergency declaration allowing her to activate National Guard members with medical training to fill in if a rash of firings create severe staff shortages at hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities. Other options include bringing workers from other states or countries, she said.
“First of all, those of you who have been vaccinated, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what was right and helping lead the way so we do have the confidence we need,” the governor said. “To those who have not yet made that decision, please do the right thing. We have a lot of facilities, a lot of your employers are anxious to just give you the jab in the arm and say, ‘You’re part of the family, we need your help (to) continue on.’ ”
Judge Hurd’s restraining order forbids the state from interfering with issuance of religious exemptions to the shot mandates. Hochul said she had spoken to facility administrators who are “making some accommodations” for workers who try to claim a religious exemption, but then she quickly added “they’re also not going to let them do that. They’re not going to let them work until they … so they want to see what’s going to happen with the court case as well.”
Plaintiffs in the New York cases cite the COVID-19 shots’ use of cell lines derived from abortions in the research, testing and production of the mRNA shots from Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
Catholics have had to navigate choppy seas of disparate advice from bishops and theologians on whether the COVID-19 shots are morally permissible. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said in a 2020 document that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore “it must be voluntary.” The CDF document said if no “ethically irreproachable” vaccines are available, it is morally acceptable to receive vaccines that used cells lines from aborted children in research or production. Receiving vaccines in this circumstance “does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion…”
As the growing list of federal and state lawsuits has made clear, the reasons for opposing inoculation with the mRNA shots goes well beyond the abortion debate into whether the shots are safe or effective. The federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) lists 15,386 deaths related to COVID-19 vaccines since December 2020. That is more deaths tied to COVID vaccines than for all other kinds of vaccines—combined—since 1990. The voluntary VAERS reporting database is said to reflect less than 10 percent of actual deaths and injuries. Nearly 50 percent of the COVID vaccine deaths occurred within a week of getting the shot, according to an analysis by OpenVAERS. More than 38 percent of deaths occurred within three days of getting a COVID shot.
Adding to those concerns are worries the federal government and mainstream media outlets are not being truthful about the COVID shots and possible side effects, such as myocarditis, heart attack, miscarriage, Bell’s Palsy and anaphylaxis. Public discussion of preventive regimens that use drugs like ivermectin are routinely censored on social media, as are stories about COVID treatment protocols using hydroxychloroquine, fluvoxamine, pravastatin, budesonide, ivermectin and other medications.
Even the very definition of “vaccine” seems to flow with the current. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed the following definition for vaccine on its web site prior to Sept. 1, 2021: “A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease.” Immunity was defined as “protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.” The wording was confirmed using a snapshot of the web site archived by the WayBack Machine at Internet Archive.
The new definition of vaccine removed any reference to immunity: “A preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases.” The CDC definition for “vaccination” was changed from a vaccine used to produce immunity, to a vaccine used “to produce protection.” (Emphasis added.)
Vice President Kamala Harris suggested on Twitter Sept. 12 that people vaccinated against COVID-19 need protecting from the unvaccinated. That kind of logic causes some observers to question the accepted narrative and call for more robust discussion, not less.
Dr. Janet E. Smith, recently retired from the Father McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, published a Sept. 27 essay, “The Fake Theology Behind Vaccine Mandates,” citing a dozen concerns of the unvaccinated and explaining the proper role of conscience in vaccine discussions.
“People who get vaccinated still die from COVID-19; how effective can the vaccine be?” Smith wrote. “What other vaccine requires that the vaccinated be protected against the unvaccinated?”
Ferrara raised the same point in the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction against the New York vaccine mandate. “As things now stand, according to ‘public health authorities’ the vaccinated can infect the unvaccinated, the unvaccinated can infect the vaccinated, both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated can infect each other, and everyone must wear masks indoors in ‘high transmission’ areas—that is, virtually the entire country—as if no one at all had been vaccinated.”