On Nov. 30, 2023, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa K. Sepe-Wiesenfeld dismissed a lawsuit claiming that Santa Monica College’s Covid-19 mandates violated a student’s religious freedoms and right to privacy.
College freshman Carter Sparks filed suit on Jan. 11, 2022, claiming his college’s mandates to attend in-person classes violated both his religious freedom and his right to privacy. Carter also cited a past infection as a claim of having a natural immunity that rendered vaccination unnecessary. His suit sought the court to declare the mandate unconstitutional, find that the college exceeded its authority to impose such a requirement and asked for compensation for damages he suffered as a result.
In dismissing the lawsuit, Sepe-Wiesenfeld found that both Carter failed to show how the mandates personally caused him harm, as Carter is no longer a student at SMC and that the mandates have since been rescinded and are unlikely to return. The combination of these factors made the lawsuit moot, though the judge’s comments in dismissing Carter’s claims lacked a strong likelihood of success.
Fortunately, this isn’t a law class and I’m no lawyer. At the heart of this issue is a fairly basic challenge the courts see time and again. Carter is asking a court to tell the college that he has the right to decide if a policy applies to him or if he can disregard it. Isn’t that the whole notion of the First Amendment and the right to expression, association and religious expression?
Covid-19 undoubtedly imposed a number of workplace and the classroom challenges. Employers needed to find a safe way to continue business functions without adding undue risk to his employees and customers. Schools and colleges had to reinvent how to teach students without creating a so-called super-spreader event every time classes were held.
Las Positas had similar challenges, and students were offered the chance to eventually return to campus with proof of a vaccination. Santa Monica College was no different. LPC students could elect to not be vaccinated and take advantage of hybrid, Zoom, or HyFlex courses to continue their studies without providing the requested proof. SMC was affording students similar options.
The legal tussle could have easily been anywhere else, including here at LPC. Is the right of the individual being overruled by an administration that is exceeding its authority? Or to put it another way, who are you to tell me what to do?
I’m sometimes called “old people,” at least by my snarky kiddo at home. When I entered a science fair, there was a very high possibility I was going home afterwards with nothing to show for it. That same kiddo received a shiny teal Participant ribbon for her science fair project a few years back. (It’s a nice enough ribbon, and it still hangs above my desk along with several others.)
That also means I don’t approach problems, directions or requests I receive in a parochial manner. I try to give it a once-over of why the request is being made, how it will affect me and what I need to do to comply. If the sign shows Speed Limit 25, I drive only 25 miles an hour or so. I don’t view it as an undue burden of Big Brother exerting its will over my freedom to drive like an idiot through a school zone at 8:25 a.m.
I’m confident Carter drives slow in school zones, is a good student and fine person. I would challenge that when it comes to rights being infringed upon, the larger test is not whether or not his self-professed immunity outweighs my right to attend class with students who have followed the in-person attendance guideline of vaccination. Respectfully, I’d disagree with that view.
I fully support your rights, and expect the same of you. By that same measure, one individual exercising his or her rights does not then void the freedoms to be enjoyed by everyone else in the name of that individual not feeling aggrieved.
Judge Sepe-Wiesenfeld effectively told Carter the same thing in her ruling last month. In tossing the lawsuit, the judge noted the college did not treat him unfairly or otherwise cause him harm. The college was looking out for the safety of every student, and simply not agreeing with the policy does not provide grounds for ignoring the rule. As a student, and the parent of a student, I’d expect nothing less from the school.
It’s entirely possible Carter simply hadn’t enrolled in the U.S. History class yet. There, among other lessons in that course the students learn the framers of the Constitution were born long before the birth of the Participation trophy.
The case is Los Angeles Superior Court Case 22SMCV00032, Carter Sparks v. Santa Monta Community College District.
Paul George is the copy editor at the Express. Follow him on X, formally Twitter @paul.georgePIO