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Montgomery County schools ask judge to deny injunction against vaccine mandate

A Montgomery County Public Schools administrator who sued over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate received a religious exemption this week, rendering his federal lawsuit moot, the school system contends in a new court filing.

The employee’s suit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Maryland, said that the anonymous administrative employee inquired about a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate but was told only medical exemptions were available.

The employee is identified in the lawsuit only as “John Doe.”

Doe, according to the complaint, is a Christian who “holds the sincere belief that obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination would conflict with the edicts of his religion and, therefore, that obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine would constitute a sin in the eyes of God.”

Doe in the lawsuit asked for an injunction against the vaccine mandate and declaratory judgment that the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The lawyers for MCPS responded this week that the employee received a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate on Oct. 11.

“Doe’s requested accommodation has been granted and his continued employment is not at risk because of his religious beliefs or need for an accommodation,” the lawyers said in their response.

The response also argues that the Montgomery County Board of Education’s decision to pass the vaccine mandate on Sept. 9 did not alter the school district’s existing policy to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs — though Doe said in his lawsuit that he was told religious exemptions were not being offered.

On Sept. 30, two days after Doe filed his lawsuit, MCPS sent out a staff bulletin that provided links to forms that employees could use to request religious or medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The board of education and the district received Doe’s exemption request on Oct. 5 and approved it on Monday, the school system said in its response.

Doe will be required to receive weekly COVID-19 testing and follow other health measures. He works in an administrative building, according to the complaint, and rarely interacts with students.

Lawyers for MCPS asked U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang to deny Doe’s request for an injunction against the vaccine mandate.

“Doe has not been disciplined or suffered any other harm in connection with his employment,” MCPS lawyers wrote.

Joshua Dixon, a lawyer who represents Doe in the lawsuit, said he is pleased that the board agreed to Doe’s religious exemption.

“We are currently evaluating our plans for going forward,” said Dixon, who serves as senior litigation counsel for the Pittsburgh-based Center for American Liberty.

The organization says on its website that it is “fighting against growing anti-free speech and anti-civil liberties trends.”

Chris Cram, a spokesperson for MCPS, declined to comment on Doe’s case because it is pending in court and because it relates to a personnel issue.

The deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and report their vaccine status is now Nov. 15.

“Staff may submit either a medical or religious exemption, and those exemptions have been and will continue to be considered,” Cram said.

As of last week, about 100 employees had requested religious exemptions to the mandate, he said.

The federal lawsuit is docketed as Doe v. The Board of Education of Montgomery County et al, 8:21-cv-02481.