Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Free Exercise Challenge To Mandate For Masks On Public Transit Is Rejected

In Mahwikizi v. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, (ND IL, Nov. 22, 2021), an Illinois federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the federal COVID-19 requirement that people wear masks on public transit. Plaintiff who is a Catholic rideshare driver contended that "the mandate requires him to leave maskless passengers on the side of the road in violation of Christian teachings about the Good Samaritan." The court rejected plaintiff's free speech argument, saying in part:

Giving rides to maskless passengers isn’t speech; it is conduct. And conduct does not suddenly become speech simply because the person engaging in it intends to express an idea.

It rejected plaintiff's free exercise argument because it found that the mandate is a neutral law of general applicability that is subject only to rational basis review. In response to plaintiff's hybrid rights claim, the court said in part:

But “a plaintiff does not allege a hybrid rights claim entitled to strict scrutiny analysis merely by combining a free exercise claim with an utterly meritless claim of the violation of another alleged fundamental right.”