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Criminal Justice & Legal System

WMU, MSU face lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates

Western Michigan finished the season with a 13-1 record while earning their first conference championship since 1988.
Joel Dinda
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Update, Tuesday August 31 at 3:14 p.m.

A judge on Tuesday blocked Western Michigan University from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement on four female soccer players, ruling they are likely to prevail on claims it violates their constitutional religious rights.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney in Grand Rapids issued the temporary restraining order on the day of the school’s deadline for athletes to get an initial shot or be unable to practice or compete. He said while the university had not had an opportunity to respond to the lawsuit, “WMU’s vaccination requirement for student athletes is not justified by a compelling interest and is not narrowly tailored.”

He scheduled a hearing concerning a temporary injunction on Sept. 9.

Unlike at other Michigan universities, Western’s vaccine requirement does not extend to all students and employees, though the unvaccinated do have to undergo weekly coronavirus testing. The four athletes said they were denied religious exemptions to play without getting a dose.

The Kalamazoo-based school did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Original post, Monday August 30

Two Michigan universities are facing lawsuits challenging school policies that make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

Four soccer players are suing Western Michigan University. The school does not have a vaccine mandate for students as a whole, but it does for student-athletes.

Their federal civil rights lawsuit says the vaccination requirement violates their right to religious freedom, and their right to make personal medical decisions. It notes that other Michigan athletes are offering religious exemptions to student-athletes, but WMU denied the students’ exemption requests.

“WMU should acknowledge and support our clients’ sincere religious beliefs and personal medical decisions. The science and data does not support this action or treating the unvaccinated as second class citizens,” said attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center, which filed the lawsuit.

Michigan State University is also facing a separate lawsuit over its vaccine mandate. Jeanna Norris, an MSU employee, calls the mandate is unconstitutional. She also contends that she should be exempt from the requirement because she already had COVID-19, and her doctor advised her that taking the vaccine would be unnecessary.

“If plaintiff follows her doctor’s advice and elects not to take the vaccine, she faces adverse disciplinary consequences,” Norris’ attorneys wrote in the complaint. “In short, the directive is unmistakably coercive and cannot reasonably be considered anything other than an unlawful mandate.”

Researchers say natural immunity to the virus does exist, but vaccines offer strong additional protection.

Neither WMU nor MSU could be immediately reached for comment on the lawsuits. Classes at both schools begin Wednesday.

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