Sixteen unvaccinated athletes won another round in their legal battle to play sports, despite Western Michigan University’s mandate that all of its inter-collegiate athletes get the COVID-19 vaccination shot.
In a unanimous published decision issued Oct. 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, held that the university violated the athletes’ First Amendment rights.
All 16 athletes had filed for religious exemptions, which, according to the court, the university “ignored or denied.”
The court stated: “The university put plaintiffs to the choice: Get vaccinated, or stop fully participating in intercollegiate sports. By conditioning the privilege of playing sports on plaintiffs’ willingness to abandon their sincere religious beliefs, the university burdened their free exercise rights.”
The three-judge panel denied a request by the university to stay a lower court’s preliminary injunction that stopped it from enforcing the vaccination mandate.
The mandate would have barred the athletes from playing in games, or even practicing with their teams, unless they were immunized against the CCP virus (Chinese Communist Party virus, a.k.a. COVID-19).
Attorney David Kallman, senior counsel with the Great Lakes Justice Center, who represents the athletes, told the Epoch Times: “It’s a great win for our clients and for religious liberty.”
According to Kallman the court’s decision is now a “binding precedent” in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
In a press release, Kallman wrote: “The Sixth Circuit Court vindicated their (his clients) religious convictions and that they can continue to be part of their teams.
“We trust all parties can move forward in a spirit of cooperation to uphold the important constitutional issues at stake, as well as taking appropriate measures to ensure the safety of everyone at WMU.”
The order affirms: “The First Amendment, as incorporated through the 14th Amendment, prevents a state from ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion.”
The 14th Amendment also guarantees equal protection under the law.
Western Michigan University has no vaccination mandate for the student body as a whole.
However, its athletes are still required to wear masks at practice and be regularly tested for the virus. Those policies were not addressed in the athletes’ complaint.
University officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.