A federal judge in Kalamazoo, Mich., issued a preliminary injunction Thursday barring Western Michigan University from enforcing a policy requiring all student athletes receive a COVID-19 gene-therapy injection, something 16 Christian student athletes say violates their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney agreed to the preliminary injunction after an hourlong hearing at the Federal Building in Kalamazoo. He extended an existing restraining order against the university pending publication of his opinion on the preliminary injunction. The ruling means a growing list of Christian student athletes are protected from facing a do-or-don’t-play decision under Western Michigan’s COVID-19 athletic policy. The policy does not apply to the general student body at the 20,500-student university, nor to those who play recreational sports.
“It’s a huge second-step win because now this order stays in place indefinitely,” said David A. Kallman, senior legal counsel for the Great Lakes Justice Center, which represents the 16 athletes in the case. “We’re very thrilled for our clients. Now, all the fall sports and everybody that’s participating and playing right now, they’re going to be able to play.”
Since Judge Maloney issued a temporary restraining order on Aug. 31, a dozen additional Christian athletes signed onto the suit against the university. The case was originally filed Aug. 30 on behalf of four women’s soccer players whose petitions for a religious exemption to the mandatory COVID jab were denied by Western Michigan. All of the additional plaintiffs had their religious-exemption petitions denied by the university, which said mandatory vaccines help “avoid the significant risk posed to the intercollegiate athletic programs of a COVID-19 outbreak…”
The sports represented in the lawsuit now include football, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, men’s baseball, women’s cross country and track, and the dance team. Under Western Michigan’s COVID policy, athletes who do not get the COVID shot faced being removed from team competition. Six of the students identified themselves as Catholic, with the others from a variety of Protestant churches. Their petitions ranged from a few sentences to multiple pages with footnotes citing medical research, Scriptural references and church documents on moral considerations involved with vaccines.
Kaelyn Parker, a Catholic student on the WMU dance team, said the use of fetal tissue from aborted children in vaccine development is immoral. “The research to develop these (so-called) vaccines has been proven to have used fetal tissue from aborted babies,” she wrote in her petition for religious exemption. “I am a total pro-life advocate and volunteer for many right to life and church pro-life activities.” She cited Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which said use of embryos or fetuses in medical experiments “constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings, who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person.”
The Charlotte Lozier Institute reports that of the mRNA COVID vaccines developed under emergency authorization in the United States, those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used cell lines derived from abortions in some of the confirmatory lab testing. United States bishops have said those shots are morally permissible because of the remoteness of material cooperation in the evil of abortion. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca used abortion-derived cell lines in their vaccine development and/or production, something much more morally problematic for Catholics.
Danielle Natte, a Catholic dance team athlete, also opposes the shots due to moral issues with use of tissue from aborted children. “As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe that life begins at conception. I believe that using preborn fetal tissue in the manufacturing process of vaccines misaligns with God’s purpose for human life,” Natte wrote in her petition. “I believe as a follower of Jesus Christ, we as believers should preserve the sanctity of life and not cooperate (in) unrighteousness.”
Several of the athletes expressed concerns about reported side effects of the COVID shots, including myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Others cited worries that the spike proteins used in the COVID mRNA shots could accumulate in the ovaries, something that could affect ability to conceive children. Some challenged the safety and efficacy of the shots.
As of Aug. 27, more than 13,900 people have died in the United States after taking a COVID shot, according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more deaths than for all other vaccines combined since 1990. More than 18,000 people became permanently disabled after taking a COVID shot, and more than 650,000 adverse reactions were reported. Adverse reactions have included myocarditis, heart attack, Guillain-Barré syndrome, stroke, anaphylaxis, venous embolism, miscarriage, Kawasaki disease and thrombocytopenia, a low blood platelet count. According to federal data from VAERS Analysis, COVID shots given since December 2020 have a death rate of 25.29 deaths per million doses. That compares to 1.05 deaths for measles vaccines, 0.03 deaths for flu vaccines and 0.9 deaths per million doses for tetanus shots.
Sydney Shafer, a member of the WMU women’s basketball team and part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, worries the COVID shots could prevent her from one day having children. “Fertility is something that God gave me that I do not want to jeopardize,” Shafer wrote in her exemption petition. “I hope to have children one day and getting this vaccine would jeopardize that, considering that we do not know the long-term effects this vaccine places in our bodies. I also do not want to put anything unnatural in my body and jeopardize what God made me to be.”
In its response to the lawsuit, Western Michigan said it does not challenge the sincerity of the religious beliefs of student athletes, but wondered if it should not have offered them a chance to apply for a religious exemption in the first place. “Based on plaintiffs’ allegations and arguments, WMU would have been better off if it had made no allowances for a religious exemption — which it was constitutionally permitted to do,” read the university’s legal filing, prepared by attorney Michael S. Bogren of Grand Rapids.
The university said the vaccine policy does not discriminate against religion because it applies to all athletes regardless of religious belief. Student athletes have no constitutionally protected interest in participating in intercollegiate athletics, WMU wrote, although the students did not make that argument in the original suit. Although the religious exemption forms were marked “denied” by the university, “each is more accurately described as granting the exemption but denying the specific accommodation that the Plaintiffs requested,” the university’s brief reads.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an interesting spin to say the least,’ ” Kallman said. “We’re not going to let you play, we’re not going to let you compete on the teams we’re not going to let you practice, we’re not going to give you access to our facilities, we’re not going to let you have access to the team training tables — you can’t do any of that stuff, but we granted your exemption.”
Athletes always have another option, WMU wrote in its brief, “They are free to transfer to a school with a different vaccination policy.”
The university argued it should not be held to a judicial standard known as strict scrutiny. In his opinion granting the original restraining order, Judge Maloney said Western Michigan must meet the burden of strict scrutiny. At the time, the judge said the vaccination requirement for student athletes “is not justified by a compelling interest and is not narrowly tailored.”
The student athletes in the case offered to be subjected to other measures to prevent the spread of COVID, such as regular testing, wearing of masks, etc. Some of the students volunteered to take prophylactic medications such as Ivermectin, an anti-parasite medication used more than 3.7 billion times in the developing world to treat and prevent river blindness.
A number of states in India used Ivermectin to drastically reduce daily cases and deaths from COVID. An analysis of 63 medical studies on the use of Ivermectin to treat and prevent COVID showed the drug resulted in 86 percent improvement in mortality, hospitalization, recovery and cases when used as a preventive agent. It showed a 70 percent improvement when used in early treatment of COVID. Use of the drug has been widely mocked in mainstream media because of its dual use in veterinary medicine to treat parasites. Unfounded stories circulated in media outlets recently claiming a wave of emergency room visits by people overdosing on Ivermectin from agricultural supply stores.
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