A group of students is suing their Catholic Jesuit university for refusing to grant religious exemptions to the school’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
On September 8, four students filed a lawsuit against Creighton University claiming that the school violates students’ religious freedoms by refusing to provide a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine. The lawsuit specifically charges Creighton with “arbitrary and disparate treatment of students and violations of religious freedom,” according to a press release.
The students’ legal representation says the school set a September 7 deadline for students to file proof of vaccination. The mandate applies to all Creighton students, even those who exclusively attend online classes. The school announced that anyone who refused to present proof of vaccination by the September 7 deadline would be “administratively withdrawn from the school.”
The university initially issued religious waivers for students when the vaccines were under Emergency Use Authorization, though the religious exemption was removed after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full FDA approval on August 23. Creighton informed students that they must get the COVID-19 vaccine, submit a medical exemption, or withdraw from the university.
On September 8, students who had not filed proof of vaccination began receiving notification from the university, advising them that their school account had been placed on hold. Some students were informed that they cannot attend classes until they upload their vaccination records.
According to the lawsuit, students allege that the university’s policies make them “feel that they are being pressured and coerced to receive a vaccination that they do not want.” Creighton is the only university in the Big East Conference that does not permit religious exemptions, except for the University of Connecticut which dubs religious exemptions as “personal exemptions.”
Robert Sullivan, the students’ legal representation, said that a Catholic school should not force students to choose between an education and their “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
“Many students and parents are disturbed that a religious institution is not allowing religious exemptions,” Sullivan said. “A Catholic university should never be placing its students in such a position where they may be required to violate the teachings of the Church.”
Lauren Ramaekers, one of the students named as a plaintiff in the suit, is the president of Creighton’s Students for Life group and claims she opposed the vaccine because of the “use of abortion-derived fetal cells in the research and development of the vaccines.”
According to Nebraska Medicine, the COVID-19 vaccines do not “contain any aborted fetal cells,” though fetal cell lines were “used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines and during [the] production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
“[T]he use of fetal tissue, fetal cells, or any ‘product’ of abortion in the development and/or testing of a vaccine or any other medical treatment, is abhorrent to me,” Ramaekers said. “This is a sincerely held religious belief, which impacts my moral and ethical views of the world.”
The student concedes that while Catholic leaders are divided over the morality of vaccinations, though there is no dispute that abortion is “immoral and contrary” to Catholic doctrine. Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have spoken favorably of the COVID-19 vaccine and have both reportedly received the vaccine. Pope Francis urged Catholics, last month, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love,” the Pope said. “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”
The university’s website notes that vaccinations are not mandated for faculty and staff; instead, they are “strongly encouraged to be vaccinated.”
Creighton issued a warning that reads, in part, “students participating in an on-campus program without verified COVID-19 vaccination documentation (or an approved exemption) may be subject to unenrollment.”
The university’s position raises questions about whether schools can remove students from enrollment mid-semester, and whether the school can keep the students’ tuition.
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