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Appeals Court Rules University’s Vaccine Mandate Was Unconstitutional

Travelers walk past a sign offering free Covid-19 vaccinations and booster shots at a pop-up clinic in the international arrivals area of Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California on December 22, 2021. - The clinic at the airport offers free vaccinations and boosters for holiday travelers on December 22 and on December 29. Los Angeles County sees what could be the beginning of a winter surge with more than 3,200 Covid-19 cases reported every day since last December 17. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

A Colorado university’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal court has ruled.

The Sept. 1, 2021, mandate “clearly violates the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause as interpreted by our precedents,” a majority of a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said in the May 7 decision.
While the mandate was later updated, the newer version also violates the Constitution, the judges said.

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The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in 2021 required COVID-19 vaccination of all students and employees. It initially offered religious exemptions to anyone who checked a box, but later said administrators would “only recognize religious exemptions based on religious beliefs whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations.”

Officials, for instance, said that Christian Scientists would qualify for an exemption but Buddhists would not.

They also said that exemptions would only be granted to people who never received any vaccinations.

Medical exemptions, on the other hand, were available if a doctor said the prospective recipient’s health or life would be endangered.

Seventeen students and employees, all of whose applications were denied, sued over the policy, alleging it was discriminatory.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, in 2022 ruled that the plaintiffs did not show they would suffer irreparable harm absent a stay of the initial mandate, and that they had not met the burden of showing the updated mandate was not neutral.

The case against the Sept. 1 mandate also became moot because the requirements were updated, the judge said.

That ruling was wrong, according to the appeals court, in part because the initial mandate was used to fire two employee plaintiffs and Judge Moore placed the burden regarding mootness on the plaintiffs.

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