A right to vaccination dissent
Judge blocks Louisiana medical school’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate
A judge last week temporarily blocked the University of Louisiana’s medical school from enforcing its vaccine mandate on three medical students. The judge concluded the school placed excessive and illegal restrictions on its religious exemption.
In a 19-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty, a Trump appointee, chided officials at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Monroe, La., for excluding the students from educational settings that involve hands-on patient care if they received the religious exemption.
Unlike vaccinated students, the three also faced what Doughty labeled a “Scarlett Letter”–type list of requirements. In addition to wearing masks, they had to frequently undergo COVID-19 tests, use a software app that allowed the school and other students to track their movements, and disclose their vaccination status to other students and obtain their consent to work together.
Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis, and Kirsten Willis Hall said the vaccine development’s connection with aborted fetal tissues violated their religious beliefs. They also dissented because the vaccine was approved for emergency use only and was therefore experimental.
At first, the school denied the three students’ requests. After a July 20 letter from Liberty Counsel, the school clarified its policy on exemptions and granted the exemptions. The Florida-based firm filed the lawsuit after the school attached conditions.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry weighed in on the side of the students in a friend-of-the-court brief, calling the school’s policies “discriminatory, punitive, and ill-advised.”
“Even in times of crisis, indeed especially in a time of crisis, the rule of law must be upheld,” Landry wrote. “Surely the school can provide solutions to the challenges presented by the pandemic without violating students’ fundamental rights of personal autonomy, bodily integrity, and sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Doughty found the policy violated the free exercise clause of the Louisiana Constitution. But it’s nearly identical to that of the U.S. Constitution, so his ruling may prove persuasive to other courts facing similar challenges to vaccine mandates.
Liberty Counsel has also challenged the denial of a religious exemption to a nursing student at Graceland University School of Nursing in Independence, Mo., and questioned Illinois-based Advocate Health Care’s denial of a religious exemption to employees who base their request on what the provider calls a “false” claim about aborted fetal cell lines being used in vaccines.
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