CINCINNATI, Ohio (Great Lakes News) – A preliminary injunction allowing sixteen athletes at Western Michigan University (WMU) to continue playing intercollegiate sports despite refusing a Covid-19 vaccine shot mandated by the school has been upheld Thursday.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said in its published opinion that WMU violated the athletes’ First Amendment rights by denying their requests for a religious exemption from the mandate. This decision is now binding
precedent in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

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The Great Lakes Justice Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Grand Rapids on behalf of 16 athletes. It challenged WMU’s unlawful denial of their request for religious accommodation from the college’s vaccine mandate to participate in sports.

The students represent numerous teams at WMU including the football, baseball, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, dance team, and cross-country programs.

WMU recently instituted a requirement for all its athletes in all sports to take the Covid-19 vaccine or forfeit their right to play intercollegiate sports. No similar vaccine requirement exists for any other students at WMU. Other universities, including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are granting religious accommodations to athletes.

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The court’s opinion stated, “[WMU] put plaintiffs to the choice: get vaccinated or stop fully participating in intercollegiate sports. By conditioning the privilege of playing sports on plaintiffs’ willingness to abandon their sincere religious beliefs, [WMU] burdened their free exercise rights.”