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.
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.
“Without this court’s intervention, Mr. Sparks will continue to be treated as a second-class citizen and denied access to an in-person college education,” the suit states.
A district representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
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, a Catholic, 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.
The college denied Sparks’ request, saying it was unsupported by medical evidence, the suit states. The school also rejected Sparks’ request for a religious exemption, stating that being Catholic does not entitle someone to a religious exemption and the church has no theological objection to the coronavirus vaccines, according to the suit.
The college’s denial letter cited Pope Francis’ support for the COVID-19 shots and said that Sparks did not articulate personal religious beliefs contrary to those of his faith’s leadership.
“Questioning the sincerity of one’s religious beliefs constitutes religious discrimination and violates federal and state civil rights laws,” the suit states. “Mr. Sparks has a right to privacy and a right to object to compulsory medical treatment based on his sincere religious beliefs. Lawsuits decided a hundred years ago do not change that.”
Time is of the essence in the suit because Sparks has already lost a semester of education, his court papers state.