NBA Denies Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins’ Religious Exemption Request to COVID Vax, Doesn’t Buy It!

News just broke that the NBA has denied the Golden State Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins request for a religious exemption to the requirement that people in San Francisco be vaccinated before attending or participating in large indoor events. The NBA’s official statement is below.

Some are saying that the league had no choice and that the law in San Francisco is that there are no religious exemptions for this rule, so it was pointless for Wiggins to even attempt to get one.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health issued a statement Friday saying religious exemptions for sporting events, also considered to be mega events are not allowed.

At least in schools in California, the overall law is that the state does not allow religious exemptions for vaccines. Many states do have religious exemption laws on the books but Cali is one of the few to take a hardline approach. The state laws however are always trumped by federal laws so if Biden mandated vaccines, that would override state laws even allowing religious exemptions. Such exemptions are pretty impossible to get at the federal level given Supreme Court precedent and the fact that theres a pandemic as the underlying reason for the mandate. For now there is a vaccine mandate for large gatherings at the federal level but also an alternative choice to get tested prior to entering a venue. So for now, the state’s can choose to be more strict, though not less, than the federal rule in place. Cali is obviously choosing stricter due to surges of the virus in the state.

The San Francisco Public Health Department said this on Friday in a statement:

“At large and mega indoor events, all patrons 12 and older must be vaccinated at this time. Under the current order, if unvaccinated, they cannot enter indoor areas regardless of the reason they are unvaccinated and cannot test out of this requirement even if they have a medical or religious exemption. This same rule applies to performers and players employed by the host at large and mega indoor events who are covered by the vaccination requirements of the Health Order.”

The most recent publication on its website says the following:

“Operators or hosts of indoor Mega-Events and Large Indoor Events must require all patrons age 12 and up to show proof, before entering the facility, that they are Fully Vaccinated, subject to any applicable requirements of federal, state, or local laws requiring accommodation. ”

Oddly, in this Q&A guidance explaining the policy, the Health Department goes on to say that employees can apply for religious or medical exemptions from their employers (see question #26). It does not make clear if this applies to employees who work for employers hosting mega events or just ordinary businesses! However, it says that when it comes to religious exemption, the decision really comes down to whether the employer believes that the actual reason for not wanting to get vaccinated is a closely held religious belief. Most religions do not espouse anti-vaccine rhetoric and most, including the Catholic Church are encouraging vaccination. The “belief” not only has to be believed by the NBA but there has to be proof offered that it is in fact related to religion that is in fact practiced by Wiggins and not to some fear based in science, misinformation or fodder. Obviously, the NBA was not buying it.

To take it a step further, Wiggins is probably pissed because members of other NBA teams that play the Warriors in San Fran are not subject to the same vaccination rule. This really only affects his ability to play home games.

The San Francisco policy states:

“Performers or players who are not employed by the Business, governmental entity, or other organization hosting the event (e.g., members of visiting teams ) are not covered by this Section, but are strongly encouraged to be Fully Vaccinated before playing or performing in San Francisco.”

If they are not, they are required to do a whole host of things like:
• Remain at least six feet away from members of the public
• Provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test
• Wear a Well-Fitted Mask at all times except while actively playing
• Not enter the indoor portion of any of the businesses except areas required for them to play.

Legally, there is no constitutional right to a religious exemption when a government has a compelling interest in enforcing a rule. Here, the compelling interest is saving the world from a deadly pandemic. Automatic win on the legal side. Employers have an even lower bar. They can make religious exemptions if it doesn’t pose an undue hardship on their operations but otherwise are not required to by law.

The bottom line is that if the NBA starts making exceptions, everyone will pull the religion card out who doesn’t want to get the vax. Cases in San Fran have surged to dangerous levels and hospitals are overloaded. The Delta Variant has caused vaccinated people in the area to get and spread the virus according to the health department website. Furthermore, elderly people, immunocompromised people and children are attending mega events. Some players in the NBA may have their own pre existing conditions or medical issues that could place them at risk. The NBA is taking a stand to protect players, coaches and the public.

The question is whether Wiggins will sue under local laws that allow for accommodations in specific cases, such as for religious exemptions. While the NBA is not buying his excuse, it doesn’t mean a court will not. Although, as explained, it would be an uphill battle!

Wiggins is a Minnesota Timberwolves transplant who joined the Warriors in February 2020. He is under contract with the Warriors through 2023.

Warriors general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr will reportedly hold a press conference Monday, which indicates Wiggins may not budge and they could have a real dilemma on their hands on how to move forward now that the NBA made its decision. Wiggins cannot lawfully play or be in the stadium unvaccinated at this point so if he doesn’t get vaxed he will miss all the home games. Will the team eat the price tag?