KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled in favor of athletes Thursday at Western Michigan University who sued to be able to play sports without getting a COVID-19 vaccination.
The court declined to stop a decision by a federal judge in Kalamazoo who said the WMU vaccine requirement likely violates the athletes’ constitutional right to follow their religion.
The athletes, now numbering 16, sought a vaccine exemption on religious grounds but were ignored or denied, the appeals court said.
“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. 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,” the court said in a 3-0 opinion.
The court said the athletes are likely to prevail on their constitutional argument if WMU pursues a full-fledged appeal.
WMU athletes who sought vaccine exemptions still can be required to wear a mask at practice or be regularly tested, under the injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney.