Catholic University Law Review


This Article argues that laws created to curtail the spread of deadly contagious diseases need to be drafted and implemented in ways that maximize acceptance of an affected communities’ cultural and religious beliefs. When laws are put in place that are inconsistent with community mores, the overall goal of stopping an epidemic is threatened. Communities often distrust government and other relief organizations who mandate rules and regulations that impinge their religious and cultural beliefs; thus, these regulations geared at helping communities can paradoxically undermine the goal of preventing the spread of infectious disease.

This Article focuses on the need for public health officials to accommodate the religious and cultural practices of communities impacted by serious health epidemics when developing effective emergency procedures. The authors explores the role of governmental authorities in preventing the spread of contagious diseases during public health emergencies by reviewing constitutional, state, and international laws and regulations that may apply during infectious disease threats. It also addresses how religious and cultural practices should be accommodated in light of the West Africa Ebola crisis and the Sin Nombre outbreak in the United States. It describes survivors’ legal rights regarding human remains and the importance of religious and cultural death rituals. Further, this Article sets forth a proposal, taking into account ethical and policy considerations, and ultimately proposes an interdisciplinary and proactive approach to development of laws and regulations to create a system that is adaptable, acceptable to the community, and scientifically sound.