Judge: Cruise line can require proof of vaccination in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a ban through executive order on so-called vaccine passports in early April. On Sunday, a judge ruled in favor of a cruise company that said the ban violates its First Amendment rights. File photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI

Aug. 9 (UPI) — A federal judge on Sunday night ruled in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, granting it a preliminary injunction against a Florida law prohibiting companies from mandating customers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams said in her 59-page ruling that the law instituted through executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis in early April was likely unconstitutional as it violates the Norwegian Cruise Line’s First Amendment rights, and ordered an injunction against it so the company can mandate proof of vaccinations from customers as the case moves through the courts.

The Miami-based company suspended operations 15 months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic and planned to resume its tourism business Aug. 15, but filed the lawsuit in July arguing the law implemented by DeSantis on April 2 would force it to either cancel all its planned voyages leaving the state or allow unvaccinated passengers to set sail, options it said would cause it significant financial and repetitional harm.

Williams ruled in favor of the plaintiffs while stating the state “fails to articulate or provide any evidence of harms that the state would suffer if an injunction was entered.”

“And while NCLH has demonstrated that public health will be jeopardized if it is required to suspend its vaccination requirement, Defendant identifies no public benefit from the continued enforcement of the Statute against NCLH,” she wrote.

The office of DeSantis has been asked by UPI for comment on the ruling.

Norwegian Cruise Line — which operates the three brands of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — said the order will allow it to operate “in the safest way possible.”

“The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our number one priority, today, tomorrow and forever,” Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in a statement. “It’s not a slogan or a tagline, we fiercely mean it and our commitment to these principles is demonstrated by the lengths our Company has gone through to provide the safest possible cruise experience from Florida.”

Florida was among the first Republican-led states to issue a ban on so-called vaccine passports amid concerns that companies and governmental agencies may require proof of vaccination to receive services.

Since then companies, governmental agencies and state governments have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations, including the states of California, New York, VirginiaHawaii and Maryland for state employees.

The ruling was made as COVID-19 cases in the state have been skyrocketing.

According to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the pandemic, the seven-day average in cases for Florida has grown exponentially from fewer than 1,500 cases in mid-June to 26,950 cases as of Friday.


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