An anonymous San Diego student and her parents are seeking an emergency freeze from the U.S. Supreme Court on San Diego Unified School District’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, urging the need for a religious exemption.
“The District has conditioned irreplaceable benefits and privileges on the surrender of First Amendment rights,” the plaintiffs wrote in their Friday petition.
Background: San Diego public schools, along with districts in Los Angeles and Sacramento, pedaled ahead of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide vaccine mandate for school kids, putting coronavirus inoculation requirements in place before full FDA approval of the shots for children age 5 to 12.
The anonymous plaintiffs immediately sued against San Diego’s mandate, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the district from enforcing its rules until officials removed an exemption for pregnancy that they had included in their original plan.
The reasoning was that the district wasn’t giving fair treatment to all students who don’t wish to get the vaccine, since officials didn’t defer to those with religious objections.
The district set a Dec. 20 vaccination deadline for students 16 and older who want to continue attending classes in person.
The SCOTUS petition: The plaintiffs’ attorneys said that beyond the emergency freeze they also plan to ask the high court justices to hear and decide their case, citing the growing number of contradictory rulings about mandates in courts around the country. They framed their lawsuit as “an excellent vehicle for addressing litigation of nationwide importance.”
“As the Court is aware, there are a host of challenges to various government vaccination mandates pending in the lower courts and in this Court, some of which include religious liberty claims,” wrote the attorneys, who include lawyers from two prominent conservative legal groups, the Thomas More Society and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
What’s next: However the justices decide to act will have a ripple effect across the country and particularly in California, which is poised to enforce a student vaccine mandate by the next school year.
So far, no other governor has followed Newsom’s lead in announcing mandatory Covid-19 shots for school children. Newsom has predicated his mandate on the FDA formally approving vaccines for students younger than 16; so far, the agency has only provided emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5-15.
While San Diego Unified has likewise used FDA formal approval as its threshold, the state’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified, has mandated Covid-19 vaccination for students 12-15 next month. The San Diego and Los Angeles districts have few exemptions, unlike Newsom’s plan, which gives more leniency.
Plaintiffs filed their emergency application to Justice Elena Kagan, who handles cases received from the 9th Circuit. Kagan asked for a response from the school district by Thursday.