Judges with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to roll back a temporary restraining order, issued by a West Michigan judge, that blocked the Western Michigan University’s policy involving the COVID-19 vaccine and 16 student-athletes.
As the lengthy court battle continues, the university cannot stop students-athletes who aren't vaccinated from competing. However, it can require student athletes to wear masks and take regular COVID-19 tests to participate in sports.
“We do not doubt (WMU’s) good faith, nor do we fail to appreciate the burdens COVID-19 has placed on this nation’s universities," according to an opinion released Thursday, as reported by mlive.com. "To that point, our holding is narrow. Other attempts by the University to combat COVID-19, even those targeted at intercollegiate athletics, may pass constitutional muster.
“But having announced a system under which student-athletes can seek individualized exemptions, the University must explain why it chose not to grant any to plaintiffs. And it did not fairly do so here.”
According to mlive, 16 student-athletes filed a federal lawsuit against WMU earlier this year against, with several seeking religious exemptions from a vaccine mandate. Per WMU’s policy, student-athletes can apply for a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine, but can no longer participate with their team. They can remain on the roster and on scholarship.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to protect our student athletes and our athletic program. Our vaccine policy plays a critical role in keeping athletes safe and ensuring they are able to compete throughout the season without disruption,” reads a university statement. “We will continue to abide by the court’s decision and allow the student athletes in the matter to fully participate in their sport while we also consider our next steps in the case.”