Monday, August 30, 2021

Denial Of Religious Exemption From Vaccine Mandate OK'd

In Harris v. University of Massachusetts, (D MA, Aug. 27, 2021), a Massachusetts federal district court rejected student Cora Cluett's objections to the manner in which her request for a religious exemption from the school's COVID-19 vaccine requirement was handled. According to the court:

[Student Affairs Vice Chancellor DeVeau] denied her appeal, since he determined from the substance of her request that she was Roman Catholic and concluded from his research that the COVID-19 vaccine would not violate tenets of that faith.... In interpreting Cluett’s faith to be Roman Catholic, De Veau stated “[i]f this is incorrect, please let me know.”... De Veau then cited a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that receiving the COVID-19 vaccines was “morally justified.”

The court held first that insofar as plaintiff was asserting state law claims against state officials, these are barred by the 11th Amendment because Ex parte Young only creates an exception for federal constitutional claims. As to Cluett's 1st Amendment Free Exercise claims, the court said in part:

... UMass is under no constitutional obligation to offer a religious exemption to its Vaccine Requirement. See Nikolao v. Lyon, 875 F.3d 310, 316 (6th Cir. 2017) ....  Certainly, once the university offers religious exemptions, it must not administer them in an unconstitutional way.... Here, however, Cluett has not alleged anything to suggest that Defendants have administered their religious exemption policy in a way that burdens some religions but not others, ... or that Defendants have coerced her in her religious practices....