The lawsuit against Western Michigan University is growing, as 11 new plaintiffs have joined the case against the athletic department’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
The Detroit News reported last month that Emily Dahl, Hannah Redoute, Bailey Korhorn and Morgan Otteson filed suit against Western University Michigan, university President Edward Montgomery and its athletic director, Kathy Beauregard. The women’s soccer players said the university's requirement that student-athletes get vaccinated in order to remain on the active roster "seeks to override" their "sincerely held religious beliefs and viewpoint and discriminates against them on the basis of their religion."
According to MLive.com, the lawsuit’s 11 new plaintiffs are football player Jake Moertl; baseball player Max Huntley; women’s basketball players Kia Brooks, Reilly Jacobson and Taylor Williams; cross country runners Annalise James, Nicole Morehouse and Katelyn Spooner; and dance team members Aubree Ensign, Kaelyn Parker and Danielle Natte. The lawsuit, which was filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center, says the university’s student-athlete vaccination policy violates the student-athletes’ First Amendment rights, their right to due process and their 14th Amendment rights to privacy, self-autonomy and personal identity.
The original plaintiffs got a temporary win when they filed suit. Western Michigan’s policy was that athletes must be vaccinated by Aug. 31 in order to continue participating in team activities. Judge Paul L. Maloney granted Dahl, Redoute, Korhorn and Otteson a temporary restraining order against the policy, allowing them to keep competing. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, during which Maloney could end the temporary restraining order early or convert it to preliminary injunction.
In a response to the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction request, Western Michigan officials argued that the temporary restraining order be dissolved and injunctive relief denied because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a likelihood of success for the lawsuit. The school also says it granted unvaccinated athletes a religious exemption by allowing them to remain on scholarship and on the roster.
“It is factually untrue that the Plaintiffs have been compelled to submit to a medical treatment,” the response said, according to MLive.com. “The policy does not require the Plaintiffs to receive any medical treatment at all. It merely imposes a consequence for athletes who are not vaccinated. As discussed above, there is no right to participate in athletics, so the consequence is not the deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty interest – there is no constitutional right to participate in intercollegiate athletics.
“The likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Athletics program is greatly reduced by having uniform vaccination among the student athletes. Based on transmission levels and isolation requirements, a COVID-19 outbreak in any given sport could reasonably result in forfeited games and suspension or cancellation, in whole or in part, of a season. The requirement that student athletes be vaccinated against COVID-19 is the most effective and reasonable way to guard against a COVID-19 outbreak in any given sport.”
Unvaccinated students and staff members at Western Michigan are required to take weekly COVID-19 tests, although Western Michigan isn’t one of the eight Michigan universities that have implemented vaccine mandates across campus.
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