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Appeals court rules in favor of student-athletes who sought religious exemption from vaccine mandate

The Hill logo The Hill 10/7/2021 Lexi Lonas
Appeals court rules in favor of student-athletes who sought religious exemption from vaccine mandate © Getty Images Appeals court rules in favor of student-athletes who sought religious exemption from vaccine mandate

An appeals court on Thursday ruled in favor of 16 Western Michigan University athletes who sought religious exemptions from their school's vaccine mandate.

The court said in a 3-0 opinion it would not stop a decision by a federal judge to block a vaccine requirement for student-athletes who objected on religious grounds, The Associated Press reported.

"We do not doubt (WMU's) good faith, nor do we fail to appreciate the burdens COVID-19 has placed on this nation's universities. ... But having announced a system under which student-athletes can seek individualized exemptions, the university must explain why it chose not to grant any to plaintiffs. And it did not fairly do so here," the court said.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said in the his initial injunction that other requirements on unvaccinated students such as mask-wearing are acceptable.

Sixteen athletes said they were denied a religious exemption to the university's vaccine requirement in order to play sports or ignored with no explanation by the school, according to the AP.

The court says the school will most likely lose if they go for a full appeal based on constitutional grounds.

The case was filed at the end of August with Maloney issuing a temporary restraining order at the time.

Many schools have implemented a COVID-19 vaccine requirement but have given exemptions based on medical and religious grounds.

Requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine have become popular for businesses, schools and large venues since the delta variant caused a spike in cases in the U.S.

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