University of Colorado faces religious COVID exemption lawsuit

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DENVER (AP) – A pediatrician and medical student at the University of Colorado medical campus at Anschutz are challenging denials of their requests for religious exemptions from the school’s COVID vaccination mandate, arguing in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that administrators judge the “veracity” of personal religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based conservative nonprofit, is the latest clash over a growing number of private and public sector vaccine mandates across national campaign to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 600,000 people in the United States

The lawsuit argues that the medical school arbitrarily grants religious exemptions from its vaccine requirements for all staff and students. He argues that the university approves requests based on organized religious beliefs that oppose vaccinations, while subjecting requests based on personal religious beliefs to “an intrusive religious inquisition to test the veracity of students’ asserted religious beliefs and employees “.

The lawsuit further contends that “there is a top-down cultural, societal and legal assault currently underway against those who forgo vaccines,” citing comments from US television personalities, statements made on news broadcasts. and speeches by President Joe Biden.

In response to the lawsuit, Mark Couch, a spokesperson for the School of Medicine, said their mandatory vaccination policy “offers the best way to protect” the more than two million patients that the school’s faculty serves. every year.

“We have adopted this policy in recognition of our responsibility to provide leadership in public health in our state and beyond,” Couch said.

The lawsuit names the pediatrician and professor as “Dr. Jane Doe,” and the freshman as “John Doe,” to protect them from retaliation, said Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society .

According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe requested a religious exemption based on her Catholic beliefs and her opposition to the “abortion-derived cell lines” used in the three vaccines available in the United States – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson . She did not oppose other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, not from these lines.

The university denied his request, saying campus policy “only recognizes religious exemptions based on religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all vaccinations,” according to the complaint. He argues that his impending dismissal will damage his reputation and mar his medical license record.

“This idea that you have to have centralized authority to get a religious exemption flies in the face of everything we know about the First Amendment and our whole church-state relationship system. “said Breen.

John Doe, a medical student from British Columbia, called for a religious exemption citing his Buddhist beliefs and his refusal of “products developed by killing or injuring animals (including humans),” according to the lawsuit.

University officials rejected his request, saying John Doe’s objections to the vaccine “are all personal in nature and do not form part of a complete system of religious beliefs.”

Lawsuit says John Doe’s impending termination from school would prevent him from transferring to another medical school under guidelines issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges and that he would have to reapply to follow another American medical program.

“He faces the almost impossible prospect of starting medical school elsewhere, or giving up his dream of becoming a doctor altogether,” the lawsuit said.

Both plaintiffs are asking for approval of their requests for religious exemptions as well as money for court costs and personal damages. For John Doe, that includes compensation for having to return to Canada, break the lease on his apartment and sell his assets on short notice, Breen said.

The Thomas Moore Society represents several religious exemption cases across the country, but Breen called the University’s actions “among the most egregious.” With the case, Breen said the organization hopes to “set a precedent to ensure that other government actors across the country do not get tangled up in religion and turn their government entities into these theological inquisitions.”

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Nieberg is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, non-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.


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