Attorney General Jeff Landry sent an email to his employees on Monday, suggesting strategies to get students out of the mask mandate that will be imposed in K-12 schools – as well as any school vaccine requirements that may be imposed on them. ‘to come up.
Landry’s recommendations were sent to people at the Louisiana Department of Justice about two hours before Governor John Bel Edwards reinstated the mandate of indoor masks statewide. Edwards put the warrant back in place in part because of an alarming increase in the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19.
Landry, a Republican, told his employees they could use state laws to claim a religious or philosophical objection to the student mask mandate – and a vaccine requirement if imposed.
“Louisiana law provides broad and strong protections for the religious and philosophical objections of students and parents to certain state public health policies. I support your religious freedoms and your right to conscientious objection, ”Landry wrote.
A copy of Landry’s email was provided by an employee of the Louisiana Department of Justice. Millard Mule, a spokesperson for Landry, confirmed that the attorney general sent an email to staff on Monday advising them of their rights with respect to children and COVID-19 warrants in schools.
The email was sent the same day Louisiana crossed the threshold of 11,000 deaths from COVID-19. The state is in the midst of its fourth wave of COVID-19 – which the governor has described as the most dangerous to date.
Louisiana has the fastest growing COVID-19 cases of any state in the country, and the state is expected to reach a record high level of hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The state faces these challenges, state officials say, because such a large percentage of Louisiana residents refuse to be vaccinated. The overwhelming majority of people hospitalized and deceased from COVID-19 in Louisiana are not vaccinated, hospital officials say.
Children are also more vulnerable to the Delta variant of the new coronavirus than they were to previous strains of the virus, said Mark Kline, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. Kline said he believed all children’s hospitals in Louisiana were “absolutely full.”
“I’m as worried about our children today as I ever have been,” Kline said. “There was a myth that circulated in the first year of the epidemic that children, one way or another, were immune.”
Kline said about half of the children treated in hospital for COVID-19 were healthy – and had no health vulnerabilities – before falling ill with the disease.
“Children are strongly affected by this organism and by this pandemic at this point,” he said. “Immunization is clearly the answer to the question of how we will eventually get out of this. ”
Yet for weeks, Landry has jumped to the defense of the citizens of Louisiana who do not want to be vaccinated. Attorney General has advised LSU against issuing COVID-19 vaccine warrant – and threatens suing a Northeast Louisiana medical school for its vaccination policy. Landry will also not say if he was personally vaccinated.
In the Monday email to his employees, Landry offered two form letters – one for people who want to claim a religious exemption and one for people who want to claim a philosophical exemption for mask and vaccine requirements. for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students. .
He cited three Louisiana laws in both letters as precedent for a vaccine and mask exemption. But he also said the letters should not be construed as his legal opinion.
“Please be aware that this is not legal advice; rather, it provides you with information that you can choose to use, ”the attorney general wrote of the letters.
All schools are expected to implement a mask mandate by at least Wednesday, although no K-12 schools are known to have imposed a COVID-19 vaccine requirement yet.
Landry’s sample religious exemption letter comes from a Christian perspective. He quotes several passages from the New Testament of the Bible – which is not meaningful to Jews, Muslims, or people in most other religious traditions.
“I believe Christians are called to communicate God’s words and message of love to the world. To see Luke 9: 2 ”, we read in part of the sample letter.
“I do not agree to impose a face covering on my child, which is created in the image of God,” reads the letter that Landry suggests his employees use. “Masks lead to anti-social behavior, interfere with religious commandments to share God’s love with others, and interfere with relationships in violation of the Bible.”
In the letter, Landry said parents and grandparents should also oppose children being forced to take a COVID-19 vaccine on the grounds that the country’s vaccination program is a “medical experiment.” The letter also says people should oppose vaccination warrants because vaccines available in the United States were developed using “fetal stem cell lines” derived from abortions decades ago.
Pope Francis said that Catholics have a moral obligation to be vaccinated because of its saving powers, despite the connection to abortion. The cells used to develop the vaccines are far enough away from abortions that it does not pose a moral problem, according to the Vatican.
In the model philosophical exemption letter, Landry takes a different approach. He argues that federal disability laws allow parents or guardians to object to a school’s mask or vaccine – although it’s not clear how. The letter does not explain why a child whose family does not want him to be vaccinated would be entitled to the same treatment as a disabled child.
The philosophical exemption letter goes on to say that families could oppose school mask mandates on the grounds that the face coverings impose “risks to my child’s mental and emotional health by impeding verbal and non-verbal communication.” .
Landry also suggests in this form letter that fabric masks do not help reduce the transmission of the virus. The statement goes against what months of research have suggested about the spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control continued to recommend that people wear cloth masks in public spaces to reduce the transmission of the virus.
The attorney general argues that children should be granted mask warrant exemptions because they face “minimal risk of hospitalization or death from COVID,” although, as Kline and other doctors do, For weeks now, hospitals have seen a staggering increase in the number of children admitted with severe COVID-19 illness.
Notre-Dame du Lac – the state’s largest hospital – said 58 children tested positive for COVID-19 in its emergency room in the past two weeks. Only 18 children in the emergency room tested positive throughout the month of June, according to Ryan Cross, spokesperson for the hospital system.
Landry’s arguments for religious and philosophical exemption are both based on the same law which allows parents and guardians to withdraw their students from vaccines with “written dissent”. But the law also allows schools to keep students who have not been vaccinated out of their buildings during an outbreak as long as they get permission from the state’s public health agency to do so.
There is also not much clarity on the leeway of religious exemptions from vaccination mandates. The courts have largely sided with elected officials and institutions enacting the vaccine requirement, but other legal challenges are expected in the future.
Either way, Edwards is frustrated with elected officials – like Landry – who still questioned the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“If you’re a citizen or you’re a ward president or a school board member or whatever, and you’re like, ‘Man, I just don’t wanna do that. »Which public health expert do you consult? Which epidemiologist are you talking to? What data are you looking at? Edwards asked.
“Did you hear a word that was said here about what’s going on in Louisiana?” You don’t care? Edwards said at Monday’s press conference. “I have often heard it said: Louisiana is the most pro-life state in the country. I want to believe it. It should mean something. In this context, it should mean something.