SCOTUS Fails On Religious Liberty — Again!

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to block New York’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus even when they cite religious objections.

As is often the court’s practice in rulings on emergency applications, its unsigned order included no reasoning. But Justice Neil M. Gorsuch filed a 14-page dissent saying that the majority had betrayed the court’s commitment to religious liberty.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Justice Gorsuch’s dissent. Justice Clarence Thomas also said he would have blocked the vaccine requirement, but he gave no reasons.

The Supreme Court in October refused to provide relief to health care workers in Maine who had made an essentially identical request in a challenge to a similar state requirement, over the dissents of the same three justices.

The court has also rejected challenges to vaccination requirements at Indiana University, for personnel in New York City’s school system and for workers at a Massachusetts hospital. The court also rejected a challenge to a federal mandate requiring masks for air travel.

All of those rulings were issued by just one justice, which can be a sign that the legal questions involved were not considered substantial. But those one-justice rulings did not involve religion.

In his dissent on Monday in the case from New York, Justice Gorsuch wrote that the practical consequences of the court’s decision would be grave.

“Thousands of New York health care workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits,” he wrote.

“These applicants are not ‘anti-vaxxers’ who object to all vaccines,” Justice Gorsuch added. “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.”

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“The Free Exercise Clause protects not only the right to hold unpopular religious beliefs inwardly and secretly,” he wrote. “It protects the right to live out those beliefs publicly.”