Jesuit-run Creighton University, a 9,000-student university based in Omaha, engaged in religious discrimination against two Catholic students who wished to claim religious exemption to the university’s mandatory COVID-19 shot policy, a lawsuit filed Oct. 5 alleges. It is the second recent lawsuit against Creighton over its refusal to grant faith-based exceptions to its shot mandate.
Brothers Nikodije and Aleksandar Kozic filed suit in District Court of Douglas County, Neb., against Creighton and its president, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J. The suit alleges that Creighton is a “place of public accommodation” and thus under Nebraska statute cannot discriminate based on religion. It also alleges Creighton’s COVID shot policy infringes on rights of conscience guaranteed by the Nebraska Constitution.
On Sept. 10, Creighton expelled the Kozic brothers and banned them from campus for their refusal to take the genetic serum shots against COVID-19, an illness caused by the Wuhan coronavirus. Niko Kozic, a dean’s list student, was set to start his junior year studying economics and psychology. Aleks Kozic was starting his freshman year intending to major in chemistry and classical studies. The Kozics cited their Catholic faith and its opposition to abortion in foregoing COVID inoculation with shots developed from abortion-derived cell lines.
It was the second COVID lawsuit filed against Creighton since the start of fall classes. The Kozics are represented by attorneys from We the Patriots USA, a nonprofit group dedicated to religious freedom and First Amendment rights. A previous suit against Creighton claimed the university’s coercive shot policy violated its educational contract with the 10 plaintiffs, a group that included the Kozic brothers. A Douglas County judge rejected that lawsuit’s call for a restraining order, saying the case was not likely to succeed on the merits.
Creighton enacted a policy on July 7 requiring students to be “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19 for the fall semester that began Aug. 18. No religious exemptions were offered. Students could sign a temporary exemption that said they would get COVID-19 shots once the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) gave the shots final approval. The Kozics each signed a temporary waiver. The FDA on Aug. 23 approved a shot developed by Pfizer for BioNTech. The approval letter covers the branded version of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which will be marketed under the trade name Comirnaty. Comirnaty is not yet available in the United States.
The new lawsuit claims that Creighton, although a private Catholic school, qualifies as a “place of public accommodation” under Nebraska law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability or ancestry. The university qualifies as a place of public accommodation, the suit said, in part because it “holds itself open to the public” and because “it accepts both state and federal funds in the form of financial aid, loans, grants, etc.”
“Creighton University is therefore guilty of discriminatory practice as defined by statute in that the university is directly withholding from the Kozics its services on the basis of their sincerely held religious convictions regarding the use of COVID-19 vaccines that were developed and/or manufactured through the use of aborted fetal cell lines,” the lawsuit reads. Article I of the Nebraska Constitution also guarantees “a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences” and that no “interference with the rights of conscience be permitted,” the suit said.
“We are aware of the filing but have not had an opportunity to review it thoroughly,” said Cindy R. Workman, Creighton’s director of public relations. “However, it remains our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
On its web site under the headline “COVID-19 Vaccination as a Moral Responsibility,” the university states it has historically not allowed religious exemptions from vaccines. The statement downplays the role that abortion-derived cell lines played in development of the current group of COVID vaccines, noting it “is common practice” to use cell lines from aborted babies to “test the effectiveness and safety of medications.”
Getting the COVID shots “should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good,” the Creighton statement reads. It makes no mention of individual conscience, or the recent guidance from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that vaccination “must be voluntary.” The December 2020 CDF document said if no “ethically irreproachable” vaccines are available, it is morally acceptable to receive vaccines that used cells lines from aborted children in research or production. Receiving vaccines in this circumstance “does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion…”
Some bishops—including Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan—decried this position. “To argue that such vaccines can be morally licit if there is no alternative is in itself contradictory and cannot be acceptable for Catholics,” Bishop Schneider wrote in December 2020. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, announced that he would not take a COVID shot. He said Catholics must strive to have a well-formed conscience, but should not face coercive mandates. “Everyone should have the freedom to do that, to use their free will,” Strickland said.
The suit cites a 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life —“Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses”—that warns abortion-tainted vaccines can contribute to normalization of the immoral actions of the pharmaceutical industry. “It is up to the faithful and citizens of upright consciences (fathers of families, doctors) to oppose, even by making an objection of conscience, the ever more widespread attacks against life and the ‘culture of death’ which underlies them,” the document said.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!