June 17, 2024

The Appeals Court ruled that the University of Colorado discriminated on the basis of religion

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued a ruling that the University of Colorado Anschutz School Medicine’s refusal to allow religious exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate was “motivated by religious animus” and unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Religious Clauses.

The Court ruled that the University’s vaccine mandates granted “exemptions for some religions, but not others, because of differences in their religious doctrines” and granted “secular exemptions on more favorable terms than religious exemptions.” Both of these things were illegal.

The Court reaffirmed the First Amendment principle that government cannot test the sincerity of employees’ religious beliefs.

The University’s mandates violated “clearly established” constitutional rights, the court held.

The 55-page ruling, issued on 7 May, was a reversal of a previous lower-court decision.

The appeal was filed in March 2022 by the Thomas More Society on behalf of 17 faculty and students who claimed that the university refused to respect their religious objections to taking the vaccine.

In September 2021, the University mandated that all students, employees, and other people “who currently or may in the future access any CU Anschutz facility or participate in any CU Anschutz program” or interact with members of the Anschutz community in any other way “regardless of location” must “become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a vaccine that has been approved by the World Health Organization.”

The University stated that it would only allow exceptions for individuals whose religions strictly prohibited all vaccines.

“The University of Colorado ran roughshod overstaff and students of faith during COVID,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President & Head of Litigation.

“The Court of Appeals has now declared plainly what we’ve fought to establish for almost three years: the University acted with ‘religious animus’ and flagrantly violated the fundamental religious liberties of these brave healthcare providers and students. These medical providers were hailed as heroes, as they served bravely on the front lines through the worst of the pandemic, but when their religious principles conflicted with the beliefs of University of Colorado bureaucrats, these heroes were callously tossed aside.”

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