A federal judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order barring Western Michigan University from mandating COVID-19 vaccination among its athletes.
U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney’s 14-day pause on the university’s vaccine mandate for athletes comes after four student athletes sued the university Monday on the grounds that the requirement violated their religious beliefs.
The athletes were set to be permanently kicked off their teams if they weren’t vaccinated prior to Tuesday.
Maloney said Tuesday that Western’s mandate “is not justified by a compelling interest and is not narrowly tailored.”
“When law forces an individual to choose between following her religious beliefs or forfeiting benefits, the law places a substantial burden on the individual’s free exercise of religion,” wrote the judge, who is an appointee of former President George W. Bush.
He said the university could subject the athletes to weekly testing or face mask use.
Emily Dahl, Hannah Redoute, Bailey Korhorn and Morgan Otteson filed their suit on Monday against Western University Michigan, university President Edward Montgomery and its athletic director, Kathy Beauregard. They said the university’s requirement that student athletes get vaccinated “seeks to override” their “sincerely held religious beliefs and viewpoint and discriminates against them on the basis of their religion.”
University spokeswoman Paula Davis said Monday Western Michigan wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.
For the rest of the student body, Western Michigan is requiring regular testing of those who are unvaccinated.
Maloney has scheduled arguments on a more permanent preliminary injunction for Sept. 10. The four soccer players’ lawyers are from the nonprofit Great Lakes Justice Center.