Featured Image
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Monroe, LouisianaFacebook

Big Tech is censoring us. Subscribe to our email list and bookmark to continue getting our news.  Subscribe now.

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.” 

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.