Thursday, September 02, 2021

Mask Mandate Did Not Violate Jewish Student's Rights

In Zinman v. Nova Southeastern University, Inc., (SD FL, Aug. 30, 2021), a Florida federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a suit by a law student against his law school and several other defendants challenging on religious grounds COVID-related mask mandates. The court described plaintiff's claim:

Plaintiff, who is Jewish, contends that the mask mandates require actions that run contrary to his religious beliefs. Specifically, he alleges that Judaism prohibits idolatry ... and that complying with mask mandates would be tantamount to worshiping false idols – i.e., the “so-called  ‘experts’ who claim to be able to save lives if people simply obey their commands without question.”

The magistrate judge ruled that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act only covers discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, and does not cover religious discrimination. He went on:

Even if the Court were to assume that one’s race or national origin can be “Jewish” for purposes of a Title VI claim, Plaintiff fails to include factual allegations to show that Nova’s mask mandate was discriminatory from a racial or national origin perspective. That is because Plaintiff implies that the issue with the mask mandate is that compliance with it is tantamount to worshiping false idols, and that it is impermissible for Jewish people to worship idols.... However, this issue pertains to a religious belief, not a racial characteristic. If the Court were to accept Plaintiff’s argument, then one who discriminates against a Jewish person would automatically be liable for discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin, without any regard to what the nature of the discriminatory act was. Such a broad and overgeneralized position, however, is untenable.

The magistrate also concluded that plaintiff's free exercise rights were not violated because the mask mandates were neutral and generally applicable requirements that are subject only to rational basis review. He also found no free speech violation, saying in part: "neither wearing or not wearing a mask is inherently expressive."