Medical Students Win Against Shot Mandate

Aug 18, 2021

MONROE, LA – A Louisiana federal district court granted medical school students a temporary restraining order against Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine’s (VCOM) mandate that they receive COVID shots as a condition of enrollment and participating in classes and activities in person. 

On July 20, 2021, Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) on behalf of three other medical students R., S., and K. who were denied religious exemptions and received threats from the school for refusing to take the COVID injection.  Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry also sent a letter to school officials stating, “I am committed to defending the students’ right to make informed, individualized choices about whether to receive COVID-19 vaccines. I will pursue any legal means available to ensure that the rights of Louisiana residents attending VCOM are protected from both overt and covert coercion, harassment, and retaliation by VCOM for asserting their legal rights.” 

The school not only denied their exemption requests but created a “snitch” program targeting the students. They have since received threatening emails and have been told they could be suspended and recommended for dismissal if they continue their studies without taking the shot. 

In his letter, AG Landry also reminds the administration they are violating Louisiana and federal law and may jeopardize their “collaborative” relationship with the state. 

“The Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as interpreted most recently in light of COVID-19 restrictions provide additional protections against overreaching, discriminatory enforcement of the law at the expense of conscientious objectors to the vaccine and religious believers. More importantly, under Louisiana law, immunizations at colleges and universities are never mandatory if a student presents a written statement from a physician that a medical exemption is warranted or if a student presents a written ‘dissent from the student,’” Landry wrote.

After VCOM received letters on behalf of Liberty Counsel’s plaintiffs and AG Landry, the school changed its policy to allow students to request exemptions from the COVID-19 shot based upon medical condition or religious beliefs. However, if a student received a medical or religious exemption, they would be prohibited (unlike vaccinated students) from participating in educational settings that involve hands-on patient care or hands-on examination of classmates. The options listed by VCOM for students who chose not to receive the vaccine were: 1) not attend VCOM; 2) defer enrollment at VCOM for one year; or 3) be accommodated by completing all requirements except patient care duties or be placed in an alternate education pathway that defers clinical involvement. 

Additionally, all students who were not vaccinated were required to wear a mask on campus and submit to frequent testing for COVID-19 and to use the application. 

VCOM changed its policy again on August 5, 2021 and told students they had a discriminatory “dissent option” which was not required by vaccinated students or mentioned in any of the school’s previous emails or written policies. Additionally, there was no further explanation by VCOM whether the students will be required or allowed to make up the clinical involvement/patient care duties. 

Then VCOM changed the policy again on August 9, 2021 and students received another email stating their religious exemptions were granted their appeal “for the current time” upon compliance with these onerous listed restrictions: 

1) Their religious exemption was time-limited until one or more of the vaccines currently under Emergency Use Authorization received full and final approval for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At that time, they would either need to be vaccinated or apply again for an exemption;

2) Complete the COVID-19 module and the COVID-19 vaccination modules and pass those portions in their Microbiology or Immunology course by the end of the block;

3) Correctly wear an approved mask at all times on campus, except when eating or drinking, and to stay six feet away from others when eating or drinking. Failure to wear a mask would result in suspension;

4) Must not come to campus, or any VCOM event, if ill, or have symptoms of an illness, which also must be reported on, notify the COVID officer, and have a COVID-19 test if having any common COVID-19 symptoms;

5) Read and follow the additional guidance set forth by the CDC regarding safety protocols for institutions of higher education campuses;

6) May attend the Principle of Primary Care labs and OMM labs; however, must identify a student who agrees to work with a student who is not vaccinated, as the labs involve touching and close contact with another student;

7) May complete all educational requirements for your academic year except those activities where you are acting as a medical care provider including, but not limited to, Standardized Patient Examinations and Early Clinical Experiences, which will be deferred until the threat of COVID-19 has subsided or the vaccine is approved;

8) May choose to defer their enrollment for a period of one year; and

9) May choose not to attend VCOM. 

The emails further stated that failure to comply with the above restrictions would be referred to the Professional and Ethical Standards Board which could result in dismissal. 

When VCOM imposed discriminatory restrictions on the students after granting their exemptions, Liberty Counsel affiliate attorney Michael DuBos filed suit on behalf of medical students Magliulo, Willis and Hall. 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. But when VCOM finally granted the exemptions, the long list of discriminatory restrictions were also unlawful. The federal court agreed. The students oppose receiving the injections because it violates their religious beliefs since all the shots used aborted fetal cell lines in the testing phase, and Johnson & Johnson also uses aborted fetal cell lines in the deployment or distribution phase. 

As a result of the court order, VCOM must grant exemptions filed by students who “dissent” to the COVID shots and may not treat students different from those who have received the COVID shots. 

In addition to the clear state law, VCOM will regret that it harassed these students because the court also found that public-private partnership between VCOM and Louisiana (which, among other things, provided land on which to build the private school) made VCOM a state actor and also subject to additional laws applicable to state actors. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a great victory for these medical students who will not violate their religious beliefs and be forced to succumb to an experimental drug. Students should not have to choose between injecting a drug into their bodies and continuing their training to become doctors. It is shocking that a medical school would violate the law against its own students. The bedrock of medicine is informed consent and ‘do no harm.’ VCOM violated both principles.” 

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