United States Supreme Court to Consider Request to Stop San Diego Public Schools’ Covid Vaccination Mandate

The United States Supreme Court will consider intervening in the case of a San Diego high school student who is suffering religious discrimination at the hands of the public schools. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the family of a Scripps Ranch High School student who is being denied her First Amendment right to a religious exemption under the San Diego Unified School District’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate. Thomas More Society attorneys filed the emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court on December 10, 2021. That same day, the high court asked the San Diego Unified School District to respond to the Application by 3pm on December 16, 2021.

On December 4, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to stop enforcement of the discriminatory policy that refuses to grant a reasonable religious exemption from the vaccination mandate. This, even though the school district has already granted a series of categorical exemptions from the vaccination mandate to others. This followed a November 28 emergency injunction blocking San Diego Unified School District’s vaccine mandate pending appeal, which was based on the policy’s vaccination exemption to for students. In response, the school district modified its mandate – taking away pregnancy exemptions, thereby circumventing the court ruling, and had the injunction dissolved.

Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and Thomas More Society Special Counsel, explained the case, “Unlike almost every school district in the country, San Diego Unified School District requires its students to be vaccinated to attend classes in person. Yet, it provides secular exemptions for over 85% of its students. But it does not allow students any religious exemptions.”

Jonna then related how the healthy Scripps Ranch High School 16-year-old junior, who has already recovered from Covid-19, will be excluded from her classes and consigned to online classes and excluded from her high school athletics and other in-person activities – all because the school district refuses to recognize her First Amendment right to a religious exemption.

“In stark contrast to this student’s effective expulsion from her school and sports team,” Jonna added, “the San Diego Unified School District exempts tens of thousands of this student’s classmates (and many of her teachers) from the same mandate for secular reasons. Those students receiving medical exemptions, or being given delays as children of military personnel, foster children, migrant youth, and homeless children, or those under the age of 16 as of November 1, 2021, will be in class and not be required to have been vaccinated.” He also noted that teachers can apply for and receive religious exemptions.

“These tens of thousands of exempted students carry the same or greater risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19,” Jonna pointed out, “yet they will continue to attend the same classes, with the same teachers, and participate in the same sports activities from which our client will be banished.”

Jeffrey Trissell, attorney at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and Thomas More Society Special Counsel, raised the constitutional concern behind this lawsuit. “The San Diego Unified School District seems to believe that medical reasons, secular status, concerns about FDA approval, administrative convenience, and accommodation of adult consciences are important enough to justify allowing unvaccinated individuals to come to school. Yet a student with sincere religious beliefs is treated harshly and banned from in-person class and athletics. That discriminatory treatment triggers strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause.”

Read the Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction or, in the Alternative, Petition for Writ of Certiorari and Stay Pending Resolution, submitted to the United States Supreme Court on December 10, 2021, by attorneys from the Thomas More Society and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in John Doe, et al. v. San Diego Unified School District, et al. here.

Read more about the Thomas More Society’s quest to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed rights of this student, in the face of unwarranted religious discrimination by a public school entity here.