Jackie Gale | Cases | First Liberty

Objection to Vaccines

Jackie Gale is a bright, friendly 19-year old woman who loves art and playing team sports. In high school, Gale played varsity volleyball and softball. Gale attends the University of Alabama at Birmingham (“UAB”) on two partial scholarships—an academic scholarship and a scholarship for art students.

For religious reasons, Jackie’s parents never had Jackie vaccinated as a child.  Jackie has attended Alabama public schools since moving to Alabama in the second grade, and Jackie received from the Alabama state health department a religious exemption card that excuses her from the state’s vaccine requirements for K-12 public school students.  Now, Jackie herself has religious objections to receiving any vaccine.

When Jackie was admitted to UAB as a freshman and registered for her first semester, she had no problems attending or registering for classes her first semester. She also registered for her second semester of classes without issue.

UAB Backpedals

But when Jackie logged into the school system to register for her third-semester classes, she noticed an administrative hold on her record. She contacted UAB to resolve the matter and was told by a UAB official that the university would not grant her religious exemption and that she had no choice but to comply with the school’s immunization policy to register for classes.

UAB provides exceptions from its vaccine mandates only for students who can document medical and/or other contraindications to a vaccine, not for religious students.  However, for employees of the medical school, for the flu vaccine only, UAB Medical provides for the possibility of an exemption due to “religious/ethical/moral beliefs.”

First Liberty Takes Action

In May 2021, First Liberty sent a letter to UAB stating that, “Both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Amendment of the Alabama Constitution protect Gale’s religious exercise. UAB is a public university that provides exemptions to its immunization policy for medical, but not religious, reasons. As such, UAB’s policy triggers, and subsequently fails, strict scrutiny under recent Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Free Exercise Clause.  In addition, UAB’s immunization policy impermissibly burdens Gale’s religious exercise under the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment.  Thus, under its current policy, UAB is treating a comparable secular activity—the act of declining vaccines for medical reasons— more favorably than when a student performs the same activity because of her religious convictions.

At UAB, the same risks to the community are present under both types of exemptions because, in both scenarios, a student is attending in-person classes while being unimmunized. UAB already recognizes in its policy that the school can achieve its goal of protecting student health on campus while exempting some students from its immunization policy. Therefore, the First Amendment requires UAB to provide that same exemption when the student requests it for religious reasons as well.”

“Jackie takes her faith very seriously and is simply asking UAB to respect her sincerely held beliefs,” said Christine Pratt, Counsel at First Liberty Institute.  “Alabama’s constitution ensures that Jackie’s sincerely held religious beliefs cannot be dismissed by UAB.  It is appalling that UAB is demanding that Jackie violate the deeply held religious beliefs she has honored her entire life.”

News Release
 For Immediate Release: 5.13.21

 Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org

Direct: 972-941-4453

 

Alabama College Student Asks University of Alabama-Birmingham to Accommodate Religious Objection to Vaccine Mandate

University of Alabama-Birmingham is denying religious exemption after allowing student to attend during previous school year

Birmingham, AL—Today, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to the University of Alabama-Birmingham (“UAB”) demanding it exempt Jackie Gale, a rising Sophomore, from the school’s mandated vaccine policy.  UAB did not require Jackie to comply with the school’s immunization policy to attend in-person during the 2020-21 school year but has refused to register her for 2021-22 unless she does so.

You can read the letter here.

“Jackie takes her faith very seriously and is simply asking UAB to respect her sincerely held beliefs,” said Christine Pratt, Counsel at First Liberty Institute.  “Alabama’s constitution ensures that Jackie’s sincerely held religious beliefs cannot be dismissed by UAB.  It is appalling that UAB is demanding that Jackie violate the deeply held religious beliefs she has honored her entire life.”

For religious reasons, Jackie’s parents never had her vaccinated as a child.  Jackie has attended Alabama public schools since moving to Alabama in the second grade, and Jackie received from the Alabama state health department a religious exemption card that excuses her from the state’s vaccine requirements for K-12 public school students.  Now a 19-year-old college student at UAB, Jackie herself has religious objections to receiving any vaccine.  UAB granted Jackie an exemption from its vaccine requirements during the 2020-2021 school year but now refuses to apply the same exemption.

UAB provides exceptions from its vaccine mandates for students who can document medical and/or other contraindications to a vaccine, not for religious students.  However, for employees of the medical school, for the flu vaccine only, UAB Medical provides for the possibility of an exemption due to “religious/ethical/moral beliefs.”

According to First Liberty’s letter, “Both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Amendment of the Alabama Constitution protect Ms. Gale’s religious exercise right to refuse to take UAB’s mandated vaccines. UAB is a public university that provides exemptions to its immunization policy for medical, but not religious, reasons. As such, UAB’s policy triggers, and subsequently fails, strict scrutiny under recent Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Free Exercise Clause.  In addition, UAB’s immunization policy impermissibly burdens Gale’s religious exercise under the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment.”  The letter adds, “Thus, under its current policy, UAB is treating a comparable secular activity—the act of declining vaccines for medical reasons—more favorably than when a student performs the same activity as part of his or her religious convictions.”

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

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