Santa Monica College freshman sues school over vaccine warrant

January 11 lawsuit alleges violation of religious freedom and right to privacy

By Sam Catanzaro

A Santa Monica College freshman is suing the school, claiming the college’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate violates their religious freedom and right to privacy. The college attorney, however, says these claims are wrong.

On August 3, 2021, the Santa Monica Community College District Board of Trustees voted to require students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before attending in-person classes during the fall semester. Carter Sparks – a freshman at MSC who was denied a religious exemption – filed a lawsuit in Santa Monica Superior Court on January 11, seeking a court order declaring the mandate unconstitutional and that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the district. Sparks is also seeking an injunction preventing SMC from enforcing the vaccine warrant, in addition to compensatory damages.

Sparks, a Catholic, submitted a request for religious and medical exemptions, saying he believed he had already had COVID-19 and therefore had natural immunity. The request also included a letter from a doctor.

The lawsuit also names Susan Fila, an SMC health services officer, as a defendant. According to Sparks, Fila was among those who rejected his request for a religious exemption from the vaccination mandate.

“The council gave vague reasons for this policy, stating, for example, that shootings represent the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the suit reads. “Furthermore, the forced vaccination policies violate Californians’ right to privacy, an express constitutional right that protects an individual’s freedom of bodily integrity.”

The lawsuit also claims that the state legislature only has the power to impose a mandate to vaccinate students, which lawmakers failed to do.

However, a Sept. 9 letter from SMC attorney Robert Myers to one of the Sparks’ attorneys, John Howard, argues that Sparks does not qualify for a religious exemption.

“Carter’s request for a religious exception did not express sincere religious opposition to vaccination,” reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by City News Service. “All the college knows about Carter’s religion is that he is Catholic and went to Catholic school. However, being a Catholic does not entitle you to a religious exemption from vaccination.

The letter also cited Pope Francis’ support for COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, Myers claims that the doctor who wrote the letter on behalf of the Sparks did not contain information supported by medical evidence.

“The fact that she did not undermines any claim that Carter has a bona fide medical condition that would preclude receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” the letter reads.

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