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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an injunction pending appeal was not warranted to enjoin a school district’s student COVID-19 vaccination mandate that did not include a religious exemption

California

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USA

No Injunctive Relief Warranted to Enjoin a School District’s Vaccination Mandate Lacking a Religious Exemption In Doe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., No. 21-56259 (9th Cir. Dec. 4, 2021), the appellants sought an injunction pending appeal seeking to enjoin San Diego Unified School District from requiring compliance with its student COVID-19 vaccination mandate for onsite learning and extracurricular activities and argued that the vaccination mandate violated the free exercise clause by failing to provide a religious exemption. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit previously issued an injunction that was only in effect while a “per se” deferral of vaccination was available to pregnant students under the mandate. The school district subsequently removed the per se deferral option and the injunction was terminated. Appellants did not establish a likelihood of success on the merits The Court explained that the right of free exercise of religion doe does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability and that a law of general applicability is subject to rational basis review. No serious question was raised as to whether the vaccination mandate was neutral and generally applicable The appellants did not raise a serious question as to whether the vaccination mandate was neutral as it did not make any reference to religion or religious practice and the appellants did not show a likelihood of establishing that the mandate was implemented to suppress religious beliefs.The appellants did not raise a serious question as to whether the vaccination mandate was generally applicable as the only enrolled students who were fully exempt from the mandate were students who qualified for a medical exemption. The medical exemption was properly limited to serve the primary interest for imposing the mandate, protecting student health and safety, and did not undermine the school district’s interests in the same way a religious exemption would.Additionally, the 30-day conditional enrollment period for the specified categories of newly enrolling students and the temporary procedural protections for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) did not raise a serious question as to the mandate’s general applicability. Lastly, a religious accommodation procedure in the school district’s employee vaccination mandate did not serve as evidence that the student vaccination mandate was not generally applicable because it did not apply to students and was not a religious exemption. Disposition The Court found that the appellants did not establish a likelihood of success on the merits, or that they would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction was not issued, or that the public interest weighed in their favor; thus, the Court denied the motion for an injunction.

April 14, 2022
Doe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., No. 21-56259 (9th Cir. Dec. 4, 2021)
Federal Courts (9th Circuit)