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Athletes, worker challenge vaccine rules at schools

Amy Facchinello, a Grand Blanc school board member, cheers on a parent who spoke against the county's K-6 school mask mandate during public comment as more than 100 people pack the Harris Auditorium at a Genesee County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, at the county administration building in downtown Flint, Mich. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

LANSING (AP) — Four female soccer players at Western Michigan University challenged the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for athletes Monday, saying it violates their Christian beliefs.

The lawsuit came days after a Michigan State University employee sued to block its mandate, which is broader and applies to all students, faculty and staff.

The players — Emily Dahl, Hannah Redoute, Bailey Kornhorn and Morgan Otteson — said Western Michigan on Aug. 12 required them to get a shot by month’s end or be removed from the team. They were denied religious exemptions, according to their federal case filed in Grand Rapids, which noted the school in Kalamazoo does not require the general student body to be vaccinated.

“Defendants’ policies violate the First Amendment by punishing students who exercise their religious beliefs in connection with their personal medical decisions,” said the suit, which was brought by the Lansing-based Great Lakes Justice Center on the eve of the athletic department’s deadline. The group has filed various lawsuits challenging pandemic restrictions including masking requirements.

Western Michigan had no immediate comment.

The Michigan State plaintiff is Jeanna Norris, 37, a supervisory administrative associate and fiscal officer who said she has natural immunity — confirmed with two recent antibody tests — because she had COVID-19 last November. The complaint seeks class-action status for other school employees who have been infected with the coronavirus. It was filed Friday by the Washington-based New Civil Liberties Alliance.

Michigan State also had no comment.

Western Michigan’s rule applies to all student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff. One plaintiff said she believes God has given her the strength to naturally fight illnesses. Another said she trusts the Lord and getting vaccinated would go against her conscience.

A third said Catholics can refuse “abortion-tainted” vaccines, an apparent reference to how coronavirus vaccines were tested or developed using cells lines derived from an aborted fetus. The pope has encouraged vaccinations, saying they are safe, effective and an “act of love.”

Both cases will be considered by U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney.

Of Michigan’s 15 public universities, six have broad vaccine requirements.

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