A federal appellate court has ruled in favor of 16 college athletes who challenged Western Michigan University‘s coronavirus vaccine mandate.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously sided Thursday with the students, upholding a district court ruling enjoining school officials from forcing the athletes to get vaccinated.
The students had sued, claiming that the school denied or did not review their request for religious exemptions from the vaccine requirement.
“The University’s failure to grant religious exemptions to plaintiffs burdened their free exercise rights. The University put plaintiffs to the choice: get vaccinated or stop fully participating in intercollegiate sports,” the court wrote in its order. “By conditioning the privilege of playing sports on plaintiffs’ willingness to abandon their sincere religious beliefs, the University burdened their free exercise rights.”
A spokesperson from Western Michigan University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The school notified students by text message that they would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in sports during the school year. Officials said they would review religious and medical exemptions on an individual basis.
But the court noted that the school failed to review the religious exemption requests or ignored them altogether. As a result, the students launched their First Amendment lawsuit against the university.
The case is pending before Judges Ralph Guy Jr., a Reagan appointee; David McKeague, a Bush appointee; and Chad Readler, a Trump appointee.