Wednesday, May 25, 2022

University's Vaccine Mandate Did Not Violate Free Exercise Rights Of Students

In America's Frontline Doctors v. Wilcox, (CD CA, May 5, 2022), a California federal district court dismissed the associational plaintiff for lack of standing and rejected individual plaintiffs' free exercise challenge (as well as their other challenges) to the University of California Riverside's COVID vaccine mandate. The court said in part:

Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' enforcement of the Policy violates their right to free exercise of religion. The SAC alleges that Defendants "coerc[e] students to make an unnatural choice...either quickly injecting themselves...[with a COVID-19 vaccine] ... or ...disclosing under duress their religious beliefs to Defendants' religious exemption approval panels."... They also contend that Defendants "prejudicially segregate religious people in order to subject them to...testing."... Plaintiffs have religious exemptions from the Policy. Even so, Plaintiffs contend that testing and masks "substantially interfere with students' religious practices of prayer, speech, and deed."...

The Policy is a neutral and generally applicable. It applies to all students, professors, and staff at the University of California and seeks to protect public health and safety. Defendants offer exemptions for religious beliefs, medical reasons, and disability.... The Policy's exemptions pass constitutional muster.... Plaintiffs allege that they requested religious exemptions under "duress" but fail to explain how their decisions to voluntarily submit a one-page exemption form were executed under "duress." Plaintiffs also fail to describe how masks and testing interfere with the students' religious practices of prayer, speech, and deed. Plaintiffs are only required to mask while indoors—a restriction that also applied to vaccinated students at the time the SAC was filed. Presumably Plaintiffs would be indoors to attend class, so it is unclear how the Policy interferes with religious practices.