CO medical school allegedly conducts illegal ‘inquisition’, rejects religious exemptions to COVID shots

A Catholic doctor and a Buddhist medical student were subjected to an “outrageous,” unconstitutional inquisition by the University of Colorado School of Medicine when they filed for exemptions to a COVID-19 shot mandate, a federal lawsuit alleges.

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora houses the CU School of Medicine (above). (Photo: UC Anschutz Medical Campus / YouTube)

A devout Catholic doctor and a Buddhist first-year medical student were subjected to an “outrageous,” unconstitutional inquisition by the University of Colorado School of Medicine when they filed for exemptions to a COVID-19 shot mandate, a federal lawsuit alleges. One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers said the case is part of a “troubling trend” of illegal discrimination against people of faith nationally and added, “there’s going to be litigation for years over this topic.”

The lawsuit filed in federal court for the District of Colorado by the Thomas More Society and two local attorneys alleges “explicit religious discrimination” by the medical school that requires “immediate judicial intervention.”

“The level of inquisition and probing into the nature of these folks’ religious beliefs was outrageous for a government entity,” said Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society and the public-interest law firm’s senior counsel. “You just don’t see this anywhere. It’s not legal and you can’t do it under the Constitution. The government is not there to sit and nitpick your religious beliefs.”

The case joins plaintiffs from Roman Catholicism and Buddhism. “We thought it was interesting that we were able to unite both the Catholic faith and then a minority faith in this country, Buddhism, to show this religious discrimination really strikes across the spectrum and really hits a lot of people,” Breen said. “It isn’t just a traditional group of conservative Catholics or what have you. No, this is broad-based religious discrimination.”

Named as defendants in the lawsuit were the University of Colorado; Donald M. Elliman Jr., chancellor of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora; and Dr. Shanta Zimmer, senior associate dean of medical education at the School of Medicine. The case is Jane Doe M.D. and John Doe v. The University of Colorado, et al., being heard before U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore. The suit seeks a preliminary and final injunction against the religious exemption policy, and a declaration that the actions of the medical school were unconstitutional.

Catholic and Buddhist Plaintiffs

The 32-page lawsuit said Dr. Jane Doe, a pediatric physician at the School of Medicine who also practices at Children’s Hospital of Colorado, requested a religious exemption to the shot mandate on August 22, 2021. The doctor is a Catholic who founded a Physicians for Life group while in medical school. She also holds a master’s degree in bioethics. Four days later, the medical school’s “Vaccine Verify” team emailed Dr. Doe a form letter stating her request was denied because her Catholic faith is not “based on a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations,” according to a copy of the email. Employees who work at the UC Anschutz Medical Campus who do not get the COVID shot(s) face eventual job termination — in Dr. Doe’s case worsened by a non-compete agreement that would force her to look for work far from where she now lives, the suit said.

“As a faithful Catholic, I uphold the dignity and sanctity of every human life and firmly oppose abortion and the evil involved in the use of cell lines derived from abortions,” Dr. Doe wrote in her application for exemption. “All three available emergent-use authorized vaccines in the U.S. — Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson, used the abortion-derived cell lines (HEK293) in one or more phases of developing the SARS CoV-2 vaccine.”

The suit noted the guidance given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in December 2020 that vaccination is not morally obligatory and thus must be voluntary. The Catholic bishops of Colorado affirmed the CDF guidance in an Aug. 6 letter, noting that if no alternatives are available, it is morally acceptable to take some of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The Catholic bishops of Colorado have promulgated a draft letter for their pastors to send to support requests for religious exemption by Catholics in Colorado,” Breen said. “So every Catholic in Colorado has the support of her pastor and bishops in making good-faith religious objections like these. The bishops there have very much stood for, stood up for the religious objections of their faithful.”

John Doe, an incoming first-year student at the School of Medicine, said he had been assured before moving to Aurora from British Columbia that he only needed to fill out the exemption form to receive a waiver from the shot. On Aug. 13, Doe was told he would be exempt from having to get a shot, the lawsuit said. Five days later, the student was notified his exemption was withdrawn and he would have to apply under a new policy. He provided information explaining his Buddhist faith and why he opposed all vaccines based on the tenets of Buddhism.

On Aug. 24, the student response team headed by Dr. Zimmer asked Doe to provide proof that Buddhism is opposed to all immunizations. “Citations from specific documents are not sufficient,” the email read. “The University will only accept requests for religious exemption that cite to the official doctrine of an organized religion, in this case, Buddhism, as announced by the leaders of that religion.” The letter noted that Dharma Master Hsüan Hua (1918-1995), whose Buddhist teachings Doe had studied, founded a university in Ukiah, Calif., that requires COVID-19 vaccination for all students.

“The university had thus openly entered the theological business of judging the truth or falsity of its students’ religious beliefs,” the lawsuit said. Doe then sent Dr. Zimmer a supplemental letter explaining that his beliefs were particularly offended by the COVID-19 shots, because they were developed using cell cultures from aborted babies. The extra information made no difference. Dr. Zimmer wrote him on Aug. 30 that his request was denied: “The basis for your objections are all of a personal nature and not part of a comprehensive system of religious beliefs.” 

“The University of Colorado medical school turned its religious process into an inquisition and rejected those whose faith didn’t meet the standards that had been preselected by the university,” Breen said in an interview with Catholic World Report. “So the university was only going to accept the faiths that had a total ban on all vaccines, but reject those groups of faith who for a variety of reasons—including abortion or other reasons—would reject these particular COVID-19 vaccines.”

Mark Couch, chief of staff and director of communications at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, offered a statement in response to the federal lawsuit: “Our vaccination policy is critical for the School of Medicine to provide a safe and healthy place for our students to learn, our patients to receive care, and our faculty and staff to work. Each year, School of Medicine faculty members provide care for more than 2 million patients and our mandatory vaccination requirement offers the best way to protect the patients in their care. We have adopted this policy in recognition of our responsibility to provide public health leadership in our state and beyond.”

Request for anonymity

The plaintiffs requested that the U.S. District Court allow the suit to proceed with them identified only by pseudonyms, out of fear of retaliation and persecution. “There is a top-down cultural, societal and legal assault currently underway against those who forego the vaccines,” the lawsuit said. “Those who are unable to receive the vaccines for sincere religious reasons are thus subject to a vicious mob whipped into a frenzy,” the suit said. It cited an example from a reader comment on an article on the COVID shots, published in Riverhead, N.Y.: “The anti-vaxxers are ignorant trash and don’t deserve to live. Gun them down while they’re all in one place and let God sort it out.”

The lawsuit says the CU Anschutz Medical Campus policy as it relates to religious exemptions violates the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the religious freedom clauses of the Constitution of the State of Colorado. As part of a stipulation agreement between the university and the plaintiffs, Dr. Doe will be on paid leave of absence while the legal case is pending. Student Doe took a leave of absence from medical school. The university refunded his tuition and fees.

The CU Anschutz Medical Campus made recent changes to its policy on religious exemptions to the shot mandate. The policy, as initially adopted June 2, 2021, said a religious exemption “may be granted based on a person’s religious belief whose teachings are opposed to immunizations.” An updated policy, effective Sept. 24, removed the phrase “whose teachings are opposed to immunizations.” The updated policy also removed language about students who wish to file for a religious exemption. It now reads, “Religious accommodations are not currently available to students or applicants.”

Breen said the new policy is not an improvement. “They essentially admitted that the original policy was no good, but now this new policy is just as bad,” Breen said. “Now they’re saying students can’t get religious exemptions at all, and so they very specifically targeted students of faith with this. So a student can get a medical exemption but not a religious exemption anymore. We’re challenging all of this, we intend to challenge all of it as we move forward.”

Breen said health care facilities around the country have shown that sincerely held religious beliefs of employees can be accommodated without an undue burden on hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other sites. The CU Anschutz Medical Campus has allowed unvaccinated staff to work around patients and staff for nearly a year, Breen said, so the sudden urgency of the shot policy makes no sense. Employees in other parts of the University of Colorado have been granted religious exemptions, he said.

“The arbitrary nature of the way these medical administrators have just decided to come after folks—students and staff—it makes no sense,” Breen said. “They have no explanation based on science to show the basis for why they’re being so extreme and unflinching in their demands for compliance.”

“The University of Colorado should just do the right thing, do what most other employers across the country are doing and accommodate sincere religious objections,” Breen said. “It’s not difficult. Other health care institutions are doing it. There’s no reason to be firing people and terminating people’s livelihoods and throwing these kids out of school merely because they have a sincere belief.”

The Chicago-based Thomas More Society has been swamped with requests for help from employees around the nation who were denied religious exemptions to shot mandates, Breen said. The society represents a group of 17 health care staff in New York who are challenging that state’s mandatory shot policy for health care workers. A U.S. district judge granted a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the policy and is expected to rule on a preliminary injunction by Oct. 12.

“We have had thousands of requests for assistance from across the country,” Breen said. “We’re finding that many employers in a variety of settings are accommodating sincere religious belief. We’re having good success with many employers. …We are still hearing a troubling many — many hundreds of requests from folks who were not accommodated by their employers. From Alaska to Rhode Island to New York, out West, we’re getting requests from everywhere for help. We don’t have enough resources to help everyone.”


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About Joseph M. Hanneman 90 Articles
Joseph M. Hanneman writes from Madison, Wisconsin.

22 Comments

  1. In many (most?) respects, I am actually rather sympathetic to the school’s point of view. I don’t know about Buddhism, but the Catholic Church has very much made itself comfortable with the use of cell lines from aborted babies (next on the docket: various treatments for kidney and bladder diseases, courtesy of U Pitt).
    .
    I do not know for a fact, but since Dr. Jane Doe is a pediatrician, she probably has ber patients take all the standard “puppy shots”–and they usually are linked to HEK and abortion.
    .
    Honestly, this needs to be fought not simply on “religious grounds” but on “My body, my choice” grounds–because ultimately, unlike abortion, it really is. Medical treatments, even preventative ones like vaccines, should not be required to obtain education or employment, do banking, go to the grocery store, entertainment venues and the like.
    .
    We are finding that the vaccines are not working as well as we were told they would. In Israel, “completely vaccinated” is now two shots plus a booster. Vermont is apparently experiencing a high rate of SC2 and hospitalizations among the vaccinated, as has Singapore. The CDC has admitted the vaccinated can get and spread SC2 just like the unvaccinated.
    .
    What the CDC has not been as willing to highlight is that the disease of obesity contributes greatly to the Covid pandemic, as well as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The medical costs related to obesity are enormous.
    .
    It has become socially acceptable to require folks to get vaccinated. But the vaccines are not working as well as hoped. Will weight loss? In fact, some research has shown that those who exercise regularly and consume fruits and vegetables do much better with SC2 than those who do not. Indeed, hospitalizations from SC2 are linked to obesity.
    .
    Think about it: will one day we live in a world where a BMI higher than 30 is essentially illegal? Two years ago, no one would have thought about a vaccine passport, but here we are. And the Vatican requires them, too.

    • Don’t make an informed decision, when all you need to do is look at a chart.

      Unvaccinated – get vaccinated; “check” the problem is solved – or is it

      why not come up with an actual vaccine that they grow in eggs?

      • People can be, and are, allergic to chicken eggs. My grandmother died from a vaccine grown in a chicken egg that she was required to get to keep her job. That was decades ago.
        .
        GlaxoSmithKlein reportly is making a SC2 vax from plant protein. Could be a game changer. Could be a disaster.

    • but the Catholic Church has very much made itself comfortable with the use of cell lines from aborted babies

      This is quite a twisting of the facts. The Church has opposed such use for decades. Look at the Vatican web site. It is true that the opposition has not been given a high priority in public statements, but that is far from being “comfortable” with it.

      Furthermore, you, me (until recently), the Vatican, and Dr. Jane Doe have all missed the boat. We complain about the use of HEK in vaccine development, but it is now widely used in the development and testing of OTC drugs, anesthesia drugs (thus tainting all surgeries), food additives, and cosmetics. The number of U.S. Patent applications that cite the use of HEK is now around 20,000. All of us use HEK tainted products every day. Even scientific studies quoted by Covid vaccine opponents have used HEK. It is too late now for any response other than penance.

      • I am well aware of all of this. And I main the Church–maybe I should say “the faithful and hierarchy” is comfortable with it.

  2. The school is absolutely right. If you allow people to make up their own religious objections, then you might as well not have a mandate at all. A religious exemption is only meaningfully constrained if it refers to long standing teachings of well established churches. The Vatican has been quite clear that the vaccines are licit. Catholics claiming a religious exemption are making a personal, not Catholic claim. And if such personal claims are permitted, then you might just as well say, everyone has to be vaccinated unless they don’t want to be.

    • “ And if such personal claims are permitted, then you might just as well say, everyone has to be vaccinated unless they don’t want to be.”

      Felicitations on grasping the concept. That is exactly the point: coercing people to take the injections shouldn’t be allowed.

    • The school is wrong. Your “If you allow people to make up their own religious objections…A religious exemption is only meaningfully constrained if it refers to long standing teachings of well established churches” is in direct opposition to current century-old U.S. constitutional law.

      The school would be on much firmer ground to disallow ALL religious exemptions by citing the 1904 Supreme Court case on mandatory smallpox vaccination

    • Boy, what darkness you extend – please dont. The Beloved has said is it permissible with ALL the content and context present, but the content and context is woefully absent – first, if there is a safe and effective treatment this must be made use of before the spiritual roulette and die rolling of investigational therapies – that contradicts the 5th Holy Commandment and Principle of Totality. It it not morally obligatory or mandatory, but permissible with ALL the modifiers present and in place.

    • Yes, you’re exactly right, everyone should have the right to refuse injection of any substance into their bodies for any reason. I say this as someone who got the Moderna vaccine as soon as I could. But to force anyone else to do so at the price of their livelihood or vocation shows how much unreasonable fear has taken hold of the souls of many.

    • ‘Moral Obligation’ Criteria
      Some bishops even say there is a moral responsibility to take the vaccine, but this is absolute nonsense! Before taking the vaccine could ever become a moral obligation, several conditions must first be met:

      The vaccine must present no ethical objections in its development
      It must be shown to effectively do its job
      It must safe without causing serious or life-threatening side effects
      It must be the only option of protecting ourselves and others
      It must be proven that a real danger comes from not being vaccinated
      None of these conditions concerning the so-called COVID vaccines have been met with certainty. Not even one. The most common objection of conscience against the novel gene therapy is that its development involved the use of stem cells from the organs of aborted babies. Moreover, in order to obtain these organs intact, abortionists had to dismember the little bodies while the babies were still alive.

    • Conscientious objection to the so-called vaccine for reasons of religious belief is a valid protected belief issue.
      Furthermore, I totally support Pater’s argument.
      The material derived from aborted children is collected by vivisection.
      In good conscience nobody can agree with that.
      I refuse to collude with evil.

    • The Vatican has been quite clear that the vaccines(sic) are licit.
      A prudential judgment not binding on the faithful.

  3. Just wanted to point out that this medical school is using the same argument on conscience rights that the U.S. military used in World War 1: that any individual’s objection must be in conformity with the tenets of their Faith. This was overturned in the 1920s by the Supreme Court. These days conscience rights lie entirely with the individual.

    However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1904 that conscience rights can be waved in the interest of public health, in that case smallpox vaccination. The history of smallpox eradication shows that mandatory vaccination was a significant means to that end. Frankly, without state coercion public health cannot exist, and the fact that Covid has a death rate only one-twentieth of smallpox does not change that, it only changes the level of public support for coercion.

  4. All of these institutions are acting as if the vaccines are effective. A vaccinated person can be infected with the virus and can pass it on to others, so patients and staff are not safe, even if all are vaccinated. The solution to these exemptions is really simple — demand a vaccine that’s researched, developed, produced and tested without immoral means. The pope, the bishops and other religious leaders should have demanded such a vaccine at the start. Denying someone’s individual conscience is illegal, according to the First Amendment of the Constitution. Demanding proof of vaccine is also illegal, according to the Fourteenth Amendment and HIPAA requirements for privacy. Chairman Joe is incorrect that the unvaccinated pose any more of a threat to others than all those who have received the immoral vaccines.

    • All of these institutions are acting as if the vaccines are effective.
      They ARE effective. The facts you cite proving they are not perfectly so are irrelevant. The TB vaccine is only 20% effective, yet institutions in places where TB is endemic demand their use.

      The solution to these exemptions is really simple — demand a vaccine that’s researched, developed, produced and tested without immoral means. The pope, the bishops and other religious leaders should have demanded such a vaccine at the start.
      This is not simple at all. The abortion derived HEK cell line has taken over the biochemical industries. This is horrible to say, and is certainly not morally an excuse, but from a laboratory viewpoint there is nothing better. The chances of convincing tens of thousands of researchers to stop using HEK is about the same as the chances of convincing them all to become devout Catholics (and that is precisely what it will take). Also, again, you need to understand this is not just about vaccines, that if you or your loved one has surgery your anesthesiologist will be using HEK tainted drugs.

      Denying someone’s individual conscience is illegal, according to the First Amendment of the Constitution.
      Not true, according to the U.S. Supreme Court in Jacobsen v. Massachusetts (1904), when it ruled you have no conscience right to spread smallpox.

      Demanding proof of vaccine is also illegal, according to…HIPAA requirements for privacy
      Not true. HIPAA doesn’t cover situations where the individual is free to say no to a request for medical records and walk away from a denial of service.

      • “The chances of convincing tens of thousands of researchers to stop using HEK is about the same as the chances of convincing them all to become devout Catholics (and that is precisely what it will take).”

        The implication above is that HEK use in research is an immoral act on the part of the researchers.

        If such research is immoral, then those tens of thousands of researchers are in a state of mortal sin, including any Catholics, and the bishops are under a duty to publicly teach that that research is prohibited by the law of God.

        Is that what is happening?

        If it is not immoral, there would be no reason for the tens of thousands of researchers to stop using it in their research, even if they were to become devout Catholics.

        Why should they stop? There would be nothing wrong with continuing using HEK if there is no immorality involved.

  5. I am beginning to suspect that the continuous quoting of Breen and the constant publishing of this one uncredentialled man on the site is the result of the Thomas More Society paying CWR to run advertisement pieces to hawk their services (that they are proudly proclaiming how busy they are in this piece, ha ha). It actually all makes sense now that I think about it. Just hammer the same type of article out again and again, keep on having more and more press statements and build up your brand.

    It’s actually really funny when you think about it… What do you call someone who sells their body (website?) for a little bit of cash???

    “Two years ago, no one would have thought about a vaccine passport, but here we are.”
    To be fair Kathryn, did you ever try to travel to somewhere outside of the first world?

    • Neither CWR nor Mr. Hanneman receives or has received any sort of compensation for reporting on the activities of the Thomas More Society (or any other entity, legal or otherwise). Your ongoing insistence that such is or might be the case is not only false, it is libelous in character. Your propensity for mockery and falsehood is already well-known here at CWR, but if you continue in this vein you will be banned from commenting, at the very least.

  6. “ “The University will only accept requests for religious exemption that cite to the official doctrine of an organized religion, in this case, Buddhism, as announced by the leaders of that religion.” ”

    Just for one example: The essence of much of Protestantism is “I read the Bible and my interpretation is infallible because the Holy Spirit guides me personally.” (Hence the tens of thousands of denominations). So a sincere and devout Protestant might easily choose to be his own church rather than join an organized one. The university’s policy is saying that unless he joins one freedom of religion doesn’t apply to him; that the government can decide that his religious beliefs are subject to their approval. That means that government is establishing a church.

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