SANTA MONICA (CNS) - A Santa Monica College freshman is suing the Santa Monica Community College District, alleging the school's coronavirus vaccine mandate for in-person learning violates his religious freedom and his right to privacy, but the school's lawyer says the plaintiff's claims are flawed.
Carter Sparks' Santa Monica Superior Court lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, seeks court orders declaring that the mandate is unconstitutional and that it exceeds the powers of the district. Sparks also seeks injunctive relief preventing the mandate from being enforced as well as compensatory damages.
The suit also names as a defendant Susan Fila, Santa Monica College's health services officer, who Sparks believes was among those who denied his request for a religious exemption.
But in a Sept. 9 letter from campus counsel Robert Myers to one of the plaintiff's attorneys, John Howard, Myers maintains that Sparks, who is Catholic, did not qualify for a religious exemption.
``Carter's application for a religious exception did not articulate a sincerely held religious opposition to vaccination,'' according to Myers' 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 Catholic does not entitle someone to a religious exemption from vaccination.''
Contrary to what Howard said, Sparks' parents never asked Myers why his exemption was denied, according to Myers.
``My only communication with Carter's parents was to inform them that a (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) authorization would be required for the college to provide them with information,'' Myers wrote.
The two sides agree that the district's Board of Trustees voted on Aug. 3, 2021 to require that students get a COVID-19 vaccine before attending in-person classes during the fall semester.
``The board gave vague reasons for this policy, stating, for example, that the shots represent the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19,'' the suit states.
However, only the state Legislature has the power to impose a student vaccine directive and it has not done so, according to the suit.
``Moreover, forced vaccination policies violate Californians' right to privacy, an express constitutional right that protects an individual's freedom of bodily integrity,'' the suit states.
Sparks submitted a request for religious and medical exemptions, stating his belief that he has already contracted COVID-19 and thus has natural immunity to the virus while also providing a letter from a doctor, the suit states.
Myers' letter cited Pope Francis' support for the COVID-19 shots. Sparks is currently enrolled in an online course at Santa Monica College and more than 80% of the college's courses are delivered in that manner, according to the letter.
The doctor who wrote a letter on behalf of Sparks' claim for a medical exemption did not state anything supported by medical evidence, Myers' letter states.
``The fact that she did not do so undermines any claim that Carter has a bonafide medical condition that would prevent receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,'' Myers wrote.