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Unvaccinated and unwelcome in New York

Lawsuit challenges New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine passport requirements

A sign at the Modern Museum of Art in New York City in September Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig, file

Unvaccinated and unwelcome in New York

Five Orthodox Jews joined with a Catholic businessman earlier this week to challenge a New York City policy that bars unvaccinated persons from restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and most other indoor public venues in the city.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, six litigants and 12 minor children argue a series of mayoral executive orders violate their rights to religious liberty and privacy. All oppose COVID-19 vaccines on religious grounds.

In August 2021, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order labeled the “Key to NYC” that required proof of vaccination to enter most indoor public venues. After taking office, current Mayor Eric Adams extended the order in five-day increments, most recently on Tuesday last week, all justified by a continuing state of emergency declared in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic. The effect, argue challengers, “is to create a two-tiered society in the City of New York” that keeps the unvaccinated out of the city’s normal social life.

Thomas More Society special counsel Christopher Ferrara, who represents the litigants, said the city permits no medical or religious exemptions, yet officials make exceptions for many individuals and groups, including visiting pop stars and professional athletes and those accompanying them.

New York musician Beata Moon doesn’t get a “pop star” exemption, so for her it’s not just about not being able to dine out or go to the movies, but earning a livelihood. Moon, a freelance musician who has taught at both the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, told National Public Radio that she has experienced tinnitus—a ringing or high-pitched sound in the ears—since taking her first dose of the vaccine, so she won’t take the second. “I just can’t take that risk,” she said. “As a musician, my ears are my life.” Yet under the mandate, she finds fewer and fewer doors open to her.

New York’s policy is not the only one of its kind, and the challenge may be the first of many testing the limits of this latest exercise of emergency powers. Last month, the mayors of the Twin Cities joined other major urban areas like Chicago and Los Angeles in requiring proof of vaccination to enter indoor public areas—though some accept a negative COVID-19 test instead.

“Never in the history of this country, nor in the history of pandemics generally, has any government declared an entire class of citizens personae non gratae based on a refusal to be vaccinated,” said Ferrara. “What we see here is the sad corruption of public health policy by power politics.”

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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