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KALAMAZOO, Michigan (LifeSiteNews) – Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination violates Western Michigan University (WMU) athletes’ religious liberties under the First Amendment, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled October 7.

The Epoch Times reported that WMU does not have a vaccine mandate for the student body as a whole, but requires student athletes to take the shot in order to participate in games as well as practices. Athletes must also wear masks during practice and submit to regular COVID testing.

Sixteen athletes applied for religious exemptions to the mandate, which WMU did not recognize. They filed a lawsuit with the help of the Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC). A U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan’s Southern Division issued a preliminary injunction against the university enforcing the mandate. WMU appealed to the Sixth Circuit, three judges of which have unanimously sided with the students.

“The university put plaintiffs to the choice: Get vaccinated, or stop fully participating in intercollegiate sports,” the panel ruled. “By conditioning the privilege of playing sports on plaintiffs’ willingness to abandon their sincere religious beliefs, the university burdened their free exercise rights.”

“It’s a great win for our clients and for religious liberty,” said GLJC senior counsel David Kallman. “The Sixth Circuit Court vindicated [the players’] religious convictions and that they can continue to be part of their teams.”

Kallan added that the decision will have significant ramifications for other vaccine mandates, as it is “binding precedent” in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Western Michigan University has not yet issued a statement on the outcome.

Across the nation, significant concerns remain about the COVID vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, which stem from the fact that they were developed and released far faster than any previous vaccine.

Vaccine defenders note that the one-year development period was not starting from scratch, but rather relied on years of prior research into mRNA technology; and that one of the innovations of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” was conducting various aspects of the development process concurrently rather than sequentially, eliminating delays unrelated to safety. However, those factors do not fully account for the condensing of clinical trial phases — each of which can take anywhere from 1-3 years on their own — to just three months apiece. 

While cases of severe harm reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) after taking COVID shots represent less than one percent of total doses administered in the United States, a 2010 report submitted to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) warned that VAERS caught “fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events.” 

May reporting from NBC News quotes several mainstream experts acknowledging “gaps” in federal vaccine monitoring, and a Project Veritas investigation released last month shows insiders at a federal medical facility speaking candidly about serious medical complications they’ve seen after COVID vaccination that are not being reported. 

The Biden administration has clung to the narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are the key to ending the pandemic even in the face of a growing body of data indicating that increasing vaccination compliance does not correlate with decreased spread of COVID-19. On Wednesday, ABC News reported that more Americans died of COVID-19 this year (353,000) than in all of 2020 (352,000), according to data from Johns Hopkins University, despite 65% of the population being considered “fully vaccinated” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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