CATHOLIC ACTION LEAGUE:
On August 27th, U. S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper—a 2010 appointee of President Barack Obama–dismissed a lawsuit filed by two University of Massachusetts students who claimed that the school’s vaccination mandate was unconstitutional.
The students, Cora Cluett of Quincy and Hunter Harris of Medway, were represented by Attorney Ryan P. McLane, the Counsel for The Family Freedom Endeavor, a pro-family organization. UMass was represented by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth, Maura Healey.
The University of Massachusetts allows religious exemptions to its vaccine requirement, but denied one to Cluett, a pro-life Catholic. Interim Vice-Chancellor Shawn De Veau cited statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asserting that the use of abortion derived vaccines was morally permissible.
De Veau then claimed that since he—a state government employee—determined that vaccine acceptance was not forbidden by the tenets of the Catholic Church, Cluett was ineligible for an exemption, unless she stated that she was not a Catholic.
This archaic standard contravened the 1971 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court in Dalli v. Board of Education, which ruled that limiting religious exemptions to those who adhere to “the tenets and practice of a recognized church or religious denomination violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as Article II of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution.”
The court’s decision resulted in state law being amended to allow religious exemptions to individuals on the basis of their “sincere religious beliefs,” without regard to the official position of their church.
Dalli was reaffirmed in the 1997 Massachusetts Religious Freedom in the Workplace Law which also substitutes “sincerely held religious beliefs” for the previous “tenets and practice” clause.
In her decision in Harris v. University of Massachusetts Lowell et al, Judge Caspar did not address Cluett’s religious liberty claims under Dalli, but, ignoring them, chose to repeat the assertions of UMass that “objection to vaccine was not religious in nature, in part because Church to which plaintiff belonged did not oppose vaccinations.”
Caspar found that the UMass policy was based “upon both medical and scientific evidence and research and guidance…. and thus is at least rationally related to these legitimate [state] interests.” Caspar then dismissed the students appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and to the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, stating that “UMass is under no constitutional obligation to offer a religious exemption to its Vaccine Requirement.”
The Catholic Action League called Judge Caspar’s ruling “a callous, tendentious and unreflective decision, which begs for an appeal.” The League also characterized it as “a defeat for justice, religious freedom, and the rights of conscience.”
Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle made the following comment: “When a government official asserts that he ‘determined’ what the tenets of a religious faith are, one would think that any sentient federal judge would immediately recognize that the bright line created by Lemon v. Kurtzman, which prohibits ‘excessive government entanglement with religion,’ had been crossed.”
“This was, apparently, imperceptible to Judge Denise Caspar. There are substantive issues of religious liberty in this case, which must, sooner or later, be addressed by higher courts. Cora Cluett and Hunter Harris are to be commended for their courage, integrity and fidelity to principle.”
A New York native, Judge Denise Jefferson Caspar was appointed an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts in 1999, during the Administration of President Bill Clinton. In 2007, she became the Deputy District Attorney of Middlesex County.
On April 28, 2010, President Barack Obama nominated her as a U. S. District Court Judge for the District of Massachusetts. She was confirmed by the Senate on December 17, 2010. Her appointment was hailed by both U.S. Senators from Massachusetts, Democrat John Kerry and Republican Scott Brown.