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MONROE, Louisiana (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked a private medical school from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition for enrollment or from imposing severe restrictions on unvaccinated students.  

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty ruled in favor of three second-year students at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), holding that the Louisiana school’s vaccine policies constituted “irreparable harm” and violated the students’ religious liberties.

The group of students had filed written dissents from VCOM’s vaccine mandate earlier this year on the grounds that available coronavirus vaccines violated their religious beliefs due to links to aborted fetal tissue, according to Doughty’s ruling. “They also dissented because the vaccine was approved for emergency use only and was therefore experimental.”

VCOM initially rejected the dissents before granting conditional religious exemptions for the three students after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, and the students sued the school this month, the Center Square reported. Landry dropped out of the suit after Doughty questioned the state’s standing, according to the Center Square.  

The students continued the lawsuit, however, as VCOM tied their exemptions to extreme restrictions, like wearing a mask and social distancing at all times while on campus, disclosing vaccination status to lab partners, and avoiding certain training programs required for graduation.  

“They were originally denied religious exemptions and were given a deadline of July 19, 2021 to either defer school for a year or get the COVID-19 shots by a July 14,” wrote Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group representing the three students, in a press release Tuesday. “But when VCOM finally granted the exemptions, the long list of discriminatory restrictions were also unlawful.” 

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People of goodwill can disagree about the safety, efficacy and religious implications of a new vaccine for the coronavirus.

But, everyone should agree on this point:

No government can force anyone who has reached legal adulthood to be vaccinated for the coronavirus. Equally, no government can vaccinate minors for the coronavirus against the will of their parents or guardians.

Please SIGN this urgent petition which urges policymakers at every level of government to reject calls for mandatory coronavirus vaccination.

Fear of a disease - which we know very little about, relative to other similar diseases - must not lead to knee-jerk reactions regarding public health, nor can it justify supporting the hidden agenda of governmental as well as non-governmental bodies that have apparent conflicts of interest in plans to restrict personal freedoms. 

The so-called "public health experts" have gotten it wrong many times during the current crisis. We should not, therefore, allow their opinions to rush decision-makers into policies regarding vaccination.

And, while some people, like Bill Gates, may have a lot of money, his opinion and that of his NGO (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) - namely, that life will not return to normal till people are widely vaccinated - should not be permitted to influence policy decisions on a coronavirus vaccination program.

Finally, we must also not allow the rush by pharmaceutical companies to produce a new coronavirus vaccine to, itself, become an imperative for vaccination.

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Bill Gates: Life won’t go back to ‘normal’ until population 'widely vaccinated' -

COVID-19 scare leads to more digital surveillance, talk of mandatory vaccine 'tattoos' for kids' -

Trudeau says no return to ‘normal’ without vaccine: 'Could take 12 to 18 months' -

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** While LifeSite opposes immorally-produced vaccines using aborted fetal cell lines, we do not have a position on any particular coronavirus vaccines produced without such moral problems. We realize many have general concerns about vaccines, but also recognize that millions of lives have been saved due to vaccines.

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The religious exemptions would have expired upon full authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, at which point students would have had to submit dissents a second time. Federal regulators fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday.

In his order, Judge Doughty shot down VCOM’s attempt to limit the students’ exemptions, noting that Louisiana only allows schools to exclude unvaccinated students with approval from the state’s public health department, which VCOM has not received.

“Therefore, under Louisiana law, students at VCOM are not subject to VCOM’s mandatory vaccine requirements,” Doughty wrote, “if the student provides a written statement from a physician that the procedure is contraindicated for medical reason or presents a written dissent from a student or student’s guardian.” (Emphasis in original). 

State law “does not provide a method for VCOM to judge or restrict the student dissent,” the judge continued. “By voting to accept, but place restrictions upon the Plaintiffs’ student dissent, VCOM has violated the provisions of [Louisiana statutes].”

Doughty added that VCOM, which is private, is subject to state vaccination rules, as it operates on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe and is “clearly entwined” with the public university.

“VCOM students are allowed to use the ULM library and other facilities, attend athletic events, participate in intramural sports, and are for all practical purposes, ULM students,” he wrote. “Although VCOM is a private university, it is clearly entwined with ULM policies and entwined with ULM management and control.” 

“The Plaintiffs’ potential harm of a constitutional violation, ability to complete their education, ethics charges, and possible expulsion outweighs VCOM’s interest.”

Doughty concluded by restraining VCOM from retaliating or discriminating against the students who sued the school, pending final resolution of the case or additional court orders.

“We’re very happy with the decision,” Liberty Counsel attorney Michael DuBos said Tuesday. “We feel it is important to respect individual rights, especially in a time of crisis. If not, it sets a dangerous precedent.”

A lawyer for VCOM has said that the college will abide by the ruling before deciding how to respond, according to Inside Higher Ed, though the three students represented by Liberty Counsel filed a motion Monday claiming that the school has already violated Doughty’s restraining order by promoting exclusive opportunities for the vaccinated, among other things. 

The win for conscience rights in Louisiana follows a recent victory for students at Loyola University Chicago who were granted religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine requirements after threatening legal action with Liberty Counsel earlier this month.


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