'Go to a different school': Lawsuits against COVID vaccine mandates aim to challenge universities

ByBrett Kast, WXYZ
Saturday, September 4, 2021
Lawsuits against COVID vaccine mandates aim to challenge universities
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A Western Michigan University soccer player is defending her decision to not get the COVID-19 vaccine as she fights back against the school's COVID policy.

DETROIT, Mich. -- A Western Michigan University soccer player is defending her decision to not get the COVID-19 vaccine as she and some of her fellow teammates fight back against the school's policy.

The deadline to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for the plaintiffs fighting the vaccine mandates has passed. While the lawsuits rely on different arguments, similar cases have been filed across the country.

"It would be very disheartening and sad to see my soccer career of 18 years end like this," said Western Michigan University soccer player Morgan Otteson.

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Otteson is one of four Western Michigan University soccer players fighting back against the school's COVID-19 vaccine requirement for athletes, WXYZ reported.

The senior team captain said she filed for a religious exemption based on her Christian beliefs, but was denied.

"It's just, I trust God and his creation of the human body, and no matter what is surrounding it, that he has dedicated his life and died for us on the cross to protect us at all costs," Otteson said.

Their attorney, David Kallman, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the university, arguing the policy violates their religious freedom.

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"We're arguing First Amendment violations; we're arguing 14th Amendment due process, the right to bodily integrity [and] the right to refuse medical treatment under the constitution," said Kallman, senior legal counsel with the Great Lakes Justice Center.

A case was also just filed against Michigan State University on behalf of an employee. Her lawyer argues she should be exempt from the school's vaccine mandate because she already had COVID and tested for antibodies this month.

"One of the rules of medical ethics is that you don't perform unnecessary medical procedures," said Jenin Younes, litigation counsel with New Civil Liberties Alliance. "Not only is it unnecessary but it actually poses a risk of harm to Miss Norris and others like her."

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Both cases differ from a case against Indiana University and their vaccine mandate, which was rejected by the Supreme Court this month.

However, Mark Dotson, professor of law at Western Michigan's Cooley Law School, expects these cases to have similar outcomes.

"You have options if you don't like their policy. Then you have the right, just like you have the right to exercise your freedom of religion, you have the right to go to a different school," he said.

In response to the lawsuit, both schools said they don't comment on pending litigation, however, when denying the players religious exemptions, Western Michigan said:

"The University has a compelling interest in taking action to avoid the significant risk posed to the intercollegiate athletic programs of a COVID-19 outbreak due to unvaccinated participants. Prohibiting unvaccinated members of the teams from engaging in practices and competition is the only effective manner of accomplishing this compelling interest."

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"If ultimately that's how my senior year will end, then that's something I'm willing to step away from," Otteson said.

Western Michigan said the players can still have their scholarships honored and will be able to attend school, just not play in sports. All four players said they offered to wear masks and be tested weekly as part of the exemptions, but were told no.