The last two days have been rewarding to say the least. After my courageous client, Kendall Cote, and I appeared on Fox News to discuss our precedent setting victory for religious freedom amid COVID-19 vaccination requirements on college campuses, I have been overwhelmed with questions and requests for help from people around the country in similar situations.
While I am overjoyed to have given so many people hope, I also am human. I can only talk to so many of you at a time, and I can only take on as many cases as I can responsibly handle. In many situations, your case may not require my intervention like Kendall’s case did. My goal in this post is to provide you a self-help roadmap before you contact me or any other capable civil rights lawyer so we can efficiently allocate our resources to setting more precedents like Kendall’s.
- Ask if your college is granting medical or religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination requirements. You may only want one type of exemption. I understand that, but finding out the answer to this question is usually the first thing I am looking for as a lawyer. It shapes the questions that I will ask you later.
- If your college is granting exemptions, apply for one and be specific. To be honest, if you need to contact me or another lawyer, it’s a worst case scenario. Your best course of action is to try to avail yourself of what your college offers. Not every college is as boneheaded, bigoted, and discriminatory as Yale University initially was. When you apply for your exemption, be specific. For example, if you have a religious objection to taking a COVID-19 vaccine based on aborted fetal cell use, say so. You can find an example of me articulating one of my client’s beliefs here.
- Be reasonable. You’re requesting an exception to the rule. In most cases, all that the law will require a college to do is to reasonably accommodate you. That may take the form of saying that you don’t need to take the vaccine, but you do need to wear a face mask, social distance, or get regular COVID-19 tests. At the end of the day, your religious beliefs or medical needs are being tolerated and accommodated.
- The law does not permit your political conclusions to rule the day: I say this tongue in cheek. I am a firm believer in maximized individual liberty, and I think that wearing a face mask is irrational just as much as you do. At the same time, I am a lawyer, and I have to stay well-grounded in what the law is as the courts say it is. The exemptions that you may be entitled to do not mean that you can automatically gain freedom from every “precaution” that your university employs. The law carves out narrow exemptions where you must be accommodated. Thus, I unfortunately am not the savior who will magically free you from medical tyranny based on your political conclusions.
If worse comes to worse and you do need to contact me to deal with your school, be prepared to confront processes that will not be as fast as you like or as smooth as Kendall Cote’s was. We’re locked in a messy and difficult battle for religious and medical freedom. My job is to shepherd you along the way, but I can’t control other people. I can only strike blows for you and help you absorb blows in the legal process. I can’t guarantee that you’ll win.
Finally, understand that your legal options may look different if you go to a public university versus a private university. I am much more optimistic about religious and medical freedom’s chances at a public university, but, as Kendall Cote proved, people can even prevail at private universities with the prestige of Yale.
There’s a long road ahead, and many people will need all the help that they can get. I would ask that you check out and support We The Patriots USA, which assists my colleagues and me in so many ways in fighting these battles.
If you’re a lawyer in the United States and interested in helping out on these cases, I get more contacts than I can handle in any given day. Contact me and let me know of your interest. I am always looking to build a local counsel network or a good referral base.