Five Orthodox New Yorkers sign lawsuit challenging city’s COVID-19 vaccine demands

(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.

Catholic and Orthodox Jewish plaintiffs say vaccines are derived from fetal cell line research abortions in the 1970s and 1980s, a technology they opposed 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 the major Jewish denominations, including the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, have all released statements endorsing the vaccines, and many Haredi Orthodox community rabbis have participated in campaigns to increase vaccination rates in their communities. Always, Orthodox health professionals and communal leaders note that a vocal minority in their community will ignore their advice.

The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic nonprofit that earlier in the pandemic represented Orthodox Jews in New York in a lawsuit. opposed caps on the number of participants who can attend places 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 The Supreme Court has ruled that occupancy restrictions and warrants unfairly discriminate against religious institutions.

The Thomas More Society has filed a number of lawsuits across the country against vaccine requirements, including representing healthcare workers in New York State who have been denied an exemption from the vaccine on religious grounds.

If successful, the lawsuit would allow yeshiva employees to stay on or return to work without a vaccine, as well as congregate indoors and have access to 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 lawsuit 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 right to due process, equal protection, privacy, freedom of assembly and free exercise of religion.

“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 based on refusing to be vaccinated,” Thomas More company special adviser Christopher Ferrara wrote 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.

However, Marc Stern, the legal director of the American Jewish Committee, sees insufficient evidence for the claim of religious freedom.

“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,” he said.

However, he added, several of the other claims in the lawsuit, including that the Key to NYC program violates a person’s right to privacy, are completely without merit.

“The court has repeatedly ruled that in the event of an outbreak, the government has wide latitude as to what it can do to balance public health guidelines with what will benefit the economy,” he said. -he declares. “I am reasonably certain that this case will not see a sympathetic response, and these lines will prevail.”

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