WMU soccer players will stay on team as vaccine suit is heard


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal judge has said Western Michigan University may not remove four players from the women’s soccer team for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 until a full hearing can be held.

The temporary restraining order issued Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney in favor of the players is effective for 14 days.

“Defendants (WMU) may not prevent Plaintiffs from participating in team activities for the reason that Plaintiffs have not received a COVID-19 vaccine,” Maloney wrote in part.

A hearing for a firmer preliminary injunction has been scheduled for Sept. 9.

Emily Dahl, Bailey Korhorn, Morgan Otteson and Hannah Redoute filed the lawsuit after each was denied a religious exemption to the vaccine requirement for WMU athletes. They were expected to be dismissed from the team if they didn’t get a shot by Tuesday, though their scholarships for this school year were not in jeopardy.

In issuing the restraining order, Maloney suggested the women’s suit could succeed because of religious freedom protections and because the “on the record before this court … WMU’s vaccination requirement for student athletes is not justified by a compelling interest and is not narrowly tailored.”

The order did note that WMU has not yet had the chance to respond to the lawsuit, which it can do by Friday. That response could justify the vaccination requirement if WMU provides a “compelling reason for its actions.” It also seems like the school is going to have to explain why it has a requirement for athletes but not all students and staff.

The women had said they were willing to wear masks and undergo regular COVID-19 screening, which Maloney’s order said WMU could require.

An initial order from Maloney listed the hearing date as Sept. 10, but a revised order changed that to Sept. 9.

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