The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday voted to lift a temporary injunction it had imposed on the COVID-19 vaccine mandate of students in the San Diego Unified School District.
The rare weekend decision, taken by a 2-1 vote, lifts the injunction the court imposed on the mandate about a week ago. Judges had said the injunction would stand as long as the district continued to allow postponement of immunization for pregnant students. But now that San Diego Unified has removed this condition, the block has been removed as well.
“We take seriously our responsibility to create a safe environment for our students and staff,” San Diego Unified Board Chairman Richard Barrera said in a statement. “This latest decision recognizes that we have both the responsibility to protect students and the power to do so by implementing a vaccination mandate, which truly is our best hope as a country to bring this deadly disease under control. “
The ruling is the latest development in a legal battle surrounding a mandate that would limit in-person learning and on-campus activities among SDUSD students aged 16 and over to those who are fully immunized. The policy would go into effect January 24, and students and staff must be fully immunized by December 20.
More than seven in 10 San Diego Unified students aged 16 or older are already fully immunized.
The district insists it is a necessary step to ensure students and staff are protected from the coronavirus, but critics say it is an infringement on personal freedom. A 16-year-old from Scripps Ranch High School sued the district in October, alleging the warrant violated her religious beliefs. Namely, she said that as a Christian she was unwilling to take vaccines developed from aborted fetal cells.
COVID-19 vaccines do not contain material from aborted fetal cells or tissues. But some of the cell lines used to test vaccines in the lab include cells derived from aborted fetuses. This has been a thorny issue for some, although the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention have spoken out in favor of vaccines, citing the protective benefits of injections against severe COVID-19.
The complainant objected to the district’s vaccination mandate allowing secular, but not religious, medical exemptions. And the appeals court voted to temporarily stop the warrant on Nov. 28 as long as the district allowed pregnant students to defer immunizations.
The district announced the next day that it had lifted the postponement of pregnancy. This leaves only a limited number of exemptions, such as medical conditions certified by a doctor that would make vaccination unsafe. There is still no exemption for personal beliefs, but the court ruled that there was no clear evidence that the warrant was created to target anyone’s beliefs.
“The appellants have not shown a likelihood of establishing that the warrant was implemented for the purpose of suppressing religious beliefs, rather than protecting the health and safety of students, staff and the community,” said the court in its majority opinion.
The news comes just days after another failed attempt to stop a COVID-19 vaccine warrant by the county’s largest school district. A San Diego Superior Court judge on Thursday dismissed a request by a North County-based group to immediately suspend the vaccine’s mandate.