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UTICA, New York (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge in New York has temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate without religious exemptions that applies to hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers.

Judge David Hurd of the Northern District of New York ruled Tuesday that the New York state health department (DOH) “is barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward, or with the operation of exemptions already granted.”

“The vaccine mandate is suspended in operation to the extent that the DOH is barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination or that they revoke any exemptions employers already granted before the vaccine mandate issued,” Hurd added.

During his final days in office, former Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month imposed strict COVID-19 vaccine requirements with no testing opt-out for all New York healthcare workers. The mandate impacts more than 450,000 public and private employees.

The New York State Department of Health subsequently voted to eliminate religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate, regardless of healthcare workers’ sincerely-held objections to abortion-tainted, experimental coronavirus vaccines.

“Covered entities may terminate personnel who are not fully vaccinated and do not have a valid medical exemption,” the DOH’s rule states. Hospital employees must be “fully vaccinated” by September 27. The deadline for other facilities is October 7.

A group of 17 Christian medical professionals, including practicing doctors and nurses, represented by the Thomas More Society, challenged the vaccination rules in a lawsuit a filed earlier this month. The plaintiffs’ religious beliefs “compel them to refuse vaccination with the available COVID-19 vaccines, all of which employ aborted fetus cell lines in their testing, development, or production,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit argues that New York’s vaccine mandate violates the medical professionals’ rights under the U.S. Constitution, New York state law, and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In addition to blocking the mandate, Judge Hurd on Tuesday prohibited New York from “taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise” against the plaintiffs “on account of their seeking or having obtained a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.”

The state of New York has until September 22 to respond to the lawsuit. A hearing will occur on September 28 if the state decides to oppose a preliminary injunction against the vaccine mandate.

“This is a great victory for all health care workers in New York who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots,” said Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, which has also sued to stop New York’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

“New York is required to abide by federal law and the U.S. Constitution to provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots. Governor [Kathy] Hochul and New York health care facilities cannot override federal law and force health care workers to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by forcing them to inject an experimental substance.”