In the city of San Diego, a group of students and families found themselves facing a challenge that threatened their right to religious freedom. In September 2021, the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees passed a vaccine mandate that required all students over the age of 16 to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes. The mandate made no accommodations for those with religious objections, leaving these students and families feeling marginalized and unfairly treated.
Determined to fight for their rights, the families sought help from the Thomas More Society, a renowned organization dedicated to defending the rights of the vulnerable. Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, and his team took up the case, filing a federal lawsuit in October 2021 on behalf of a Scripps Ranch High School student athlete and her parents, which soon expanded to include several other families in the district.The school district faced significant pushback over the discriminatory mandate, causing the board to repeatedly delay the enforcement date.
Due to this pause in implementing the unconstitutional policy, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court declined to grant emergency judicial relief to the students and families. However, 11 judges on the Ninth Circuit issued dissents, making it clear that they understood the unconstitutionality of the mandate.Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jeffrey Trissell explained that the court's denial without prejudice left the door open for ongoing legal proceedings and the seeking of a new injunction should the school board move forward with implementing the paused mandate. Meanwhile, California courts addressed the discriminatory mandate, ultimately striking it down as illegal.
On February 22, 2023, the California Supreme Court affirmed lower court decisions, ensuring that the San Diego Unified School District would never be able to lift the pause on its COVID-19 vaccination mandate. With the decision of the California Supreme Court, the rights of the students and families were secured. This victory allowed the Thomas More Society to move to dismiss the federal lawsuit on March 6, 2023, closing this chapter of the San Diego public schools' disregard for the constitutional rights of its stakeholders.
Paul Jonna celebrated the victory, stating that it demonstrated the power of the judicial system to uphold the laws of the land. The students and families could finally rest easy, knowing that their rights had been honored and upheld, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Thomas More Society.The story of the San Diego students and families, along with the Thomas More Society's involvement in their case, serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up for one's beliefs and the crucial role that organizations like the Thomas More Society play in defending the rights of individuals facing adversity.
As a result of their unwavering commitment and dedication to justice, the students and families of San Diego can now move forward with the knowledge that their rights have been protected.