by Scott McClallen
Federal District Court Judge Paul L. Maloney granted 16 Western Michigan University (WMU) athletes’ request to continue participating in intercollegiate athletic competition without being injected with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Initially, four soccer stars sued in August over WMU’s vaccine mandate for athletes, which required athletic participants take the COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 31 or forfeit their spot on the team. WMU has denied all the athletes a religious liberty accommodation.
No similar vaccine requirement exists for any other students at WMU and other universities. The lawsuit says Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are granting religious accommodations to their athletes.
The players, which include two team captains, said injecting the COVID-19 vaccine violates their Christian beliefs. They agreed to COVID-19 testing and to wear a mask.
The student-athletes allege WMU is denying First Amendment rights of expression, violating Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and federal law to be free from religious discrimination.
Maloney previously granted a 14-day pause of the rule.
Maloney extended the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) until he issues an opinion and order to convert the TRO into a Preliminary Injunction that stops WMU from banning any of the 16 athletes from participating in intercollegiate sports for their religious objections to the Covid-19 vaccine.
The Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC) represents the WMU athletes, including women’s soccer, football, baseball, women’s basketball, dance team, and cross-country programs.
GLJC Senior Counsel David A. Kallman welcomed the ruling.
“We appreciate Judge Maloney’s ruling that will allow all the student-athletes to continue to be part of their teams, be with their teammates, and compete for WMU at the highest level in a safe manner,” Kallman said in a statement. “Judge Maloney upheld the First Amendment religious conscience rights of our clients and demonstrated there is a limit to government exercise of power when it violates fundamental Constitutional rights.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “WMU football practice” by Jakob.Enos CC BY-SA 2.0.