In a victory for personal freedom and religious accommodation, New York State Supreme Court Judge Ralph J. Porzio ruled that ten New York City teachers were wrongfully fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. In a 22-page ruling, Porzio called the city’s denial of religious accommodations for these educators “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.” He ordered that the teachers be reinstated with back pay, saying, “This court sees no rational basis for not allowing unvaccinated classroom teachers in amongst an admitted population of primarily unvaccinated students.”
This decision isn’t just a win for the educators involved — it has broader implications. As Sujata Gibson, lead attorney in the case, put it, “The court’s decision not only grants relief to these ten teachers, but it also sets an important precedent for all other teachers denied religious accommodation.”
— Andrew Bostom, MD, MS (@andrewbostom) September 9, 2023
The legal challenge was sponsored by the Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit founded by Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. While Kennedy is often described as a vaccine skeptic, this case highlights an essential point of agreement across political lines: respect for religious freedom is crucial. The ruling was praised as a “watershed moment” in the fight for individual liberty, a sentiment echoed by conservatives who champion religious freedom as a cornerstone of American democracy.
Before the case was decided, Michael Kane, one of the fired teachers and a petitioner in the case, held a nondenominational prayer vigil outside the courthouse. “This is one more event on the battle, on the journey, that we are all on to save America,” he said. It’s worth noting that although the decision is favorable, Kane called it “bittersweet,” stating that “justice for only ten of us doesn’t even scratch the surface of the injustice suffered by NYC workers as a result of this illegal mandate.”
The ruling arrives after New York City’s stringent COVID-19 mandates have already led to the firing of more than 1,750 city workers. Out of those, 36 were members of the New York City Police Department, and more than 950 were public school employees. Though Mayor Eric Adams lifted the city-wide vaccine mandate for municipal workers this past February, the ruling exposes the earlier policy as potentially flawed and unfair.
What comes next remains uncertain. The city’s Department of Education and the mayor’s office have yet to comment, leaving the question of whether the decision will be appealed. However, Judge Porzio’s ruling adds a critical layer to the ongoing discussion around COVID-19 vaccine mandates and personal freedoms.
This decision may seem like a drop in the bucket. After all, it directly benefits only ten teachers. Yet, the case raises vital questions about the nature of freedom, the role of government, and the sacred space of individual conscience. At a time when the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges and policy shifts, this ruling serves as a reminder: The American principles of freedom and individual rights should not be casualties in the battle against COVID-19.