Western Michigan University student-athletes challenge vaccine policy in court, cite religious objections

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A group of women’s soccer players at Western Michigan University asked a federal court Monday to grant an injunction blocking the school’s mandatory vaccination policy for college athletes, alleging they could be kicked off the team for declining the vaccine for religious reasons.

The four players – identified in the lawsuit as student-athletes Emily Dahl, Hannah Redoute, Bailey Korhorn and Morgan Otteson – claim they were told on Aug. 12 to be vaccinated by an Aug. 31 deadline or “lose their right to participate” in sports. The school purportedly rejected their requests for religious exemptions on Aug. 26, citing the need to avoid the “significant risk” of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The lawsuit argues Western Michigan University officials named in the lawsuit “unjustly discriminate against Plaintiffs because of their sincerely held religious beliefs and their viewpoints by mandating that they must take the Covid-19 vaccine in order to participate on Defendants’ college soccer team.”

The students asked the court to grant an injunction blocking Western Michigan University from implementing a mandatory vaccination policy and called on the court to declare the school’s policy unconstitutional. They also requested unspecified damages and coverage of legal fees.

A Western Michigan University representative said the school has yet to receive the lawsuit.

“We will review it and take the appropriate action upon receipt. Further, the University does not comment on pending litigation,” the school representative said.

While Western Michigan University does not have a schoolwide mandatory vaccination policy, it does require unvaccinated students to undergo regular testing. Unvaccinated student-athletes who are granted a religious exemption are barred from participating in practices or games, but they retain their athletic scholarships. The school says its vaccine requirement is necessary to protect student-athletes.

The Great Lakes Justice Center is representing the students in the lawsuit.

“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,” GLJC senior counsel David A. Kallman said in a statement.

Legal fights over vaccine mandates have emerged across the country in recent weeks. Several states have implemented laws barring the implementation of vaccine mandates.

About 52% of eligible Michigan residents are fully vaccinated.

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