KALAMAZOO, MI – Four Western Michigan University soccer players who challenged the school’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for student-athletes will be allowed to remain on the active list until the case is resolved resolved in court.
Federal District Court Judge Paul L. Maloney on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order sought by Emily Dahl, Bailey Korhorn, Morgan Otteson and Hannah Redoute, who were at risk of being removed from the team’s active roster. they were not complying with WMU policy requiring student-athletes to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines by August 31 or be banned from participating in training and playing games.
All four players requested religious exemptions from the vaccine, but WMU rejected those requests, resulting in a lawsuit, filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center on Monday, August 30, on behalf of the four student-athletes, claiming that the school decision violates the civil rights of student-athletes.
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A preliminary injunction hearing has been set for September 9, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Maloney’s courtroom in Kalamazoo.
The temporary restraining order lasts 14 days, but a Sept. 9 ruling could end it sooner or convert it to a preliminary injunction.
In granting the temporary restraining order to the student-athletes, Judge Maloney ruled: “The plaintiffs have established a likelihood of success for their claim that the WMU’s denial of a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement for its student-athletes violates the right of complainants to the free exercise of religion. Defendants are barred from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement against plaintiffs. The defendants cannot prevent the plaintiffs from participating in team activities on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine. “
Under the WMU’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for student-athletes, those who refuse the shot will remain scholarship recipients, but will not be able to train or play with the team.
UMM’s director of strategic communications Paula Davis said on Monday the policy was designed to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
“The University has a compelling interest in taking action to avoid the significant risk posed to inter-varsity athletic programs from a COVID-19 outbreak due to unvaccinated participants,” Davis said. “Prohibiting unvaccinated team members from engaging in training and competition is the only effective way to accomplish this compelling interest. “
Korhorn and Otteson are captains of the WMU women’s football team, and all four have taken the field in the Broncos’ first four games of the season. The team is scheduled to play next Thursday at Indiana University.
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