Trump-appointed federal judge stops COVID vaccine mandate at Louisiana medical school

A Trump-appointed federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday that stops Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Louisiana from imposing a COVID vaccine mandate on students in order to enroll.

U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of the Monroe division of the Western District of Louisiana ruled in favor of Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis, and Kirsten Willis Hall. All three are second-year students at the college.

The students made a personal decision to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine citing freedom of religion concerns. Each of them submitted written dissents for exemptions from the college’s imposed vaccine mandate. The college denied them according to the lawsuit that was filed after their claims were rejected.

VCOM is a private college that is located on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe. They argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because, in the end, the college granted the students’ exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

But that wasn’t the whole story by any means. While they granted the exemptions, the school placed “excessive” restrictions on the students according to the judge. Those included requiring them to inform their fellow classmates of their unvaccinated status and restricting them from participating in clinical training that is required in order to graduate.

“Restrictions that keep students from completing their curriculum defeats the purpose of having the right of dissent,” Judge Doughty commented.

The judge referred to the Louisiana statute that allows school vaccine exemptions based on written dissents from students.

Doughty noted that the exclusion “mechanism requires the recommendation of the Louisiana Office of Public Health. VCOM does not have a recommendation from the Louisiana Department of Public Health to exclude from attendance unimmunized students.”

He also stated that the statute does not allow VCOM to judge or restrict a student’s dissent. It can be based on religious beliefs or any other reason.

“Rather than restrictions, VCOM’s only options are either to allow the dissenting students to attend VCOM or obtain approval from the Louisiana Department of Health to exclude unimmunized students from admission,” Doughty wrote.

He asserted that state laws apply to VCOM regarding vaccine mandates that may not apply to private entities due to a cooperative agreement with the University of Louisiana

“Although VCOM has an interest in protecting its students, its students are allowed to attend ULM functions, participate in ULM intramural events, study in the ULM library, and mingle with ULM students, who are not required to get the vaccine,” he added.

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office sent out a press release on Wednesday praising the decision.

“This is a win for the people of Louisiana who have sincerely held religious convictions and other reservations about these vaccines,” wrote Liz Murrill, who is an attorney in Landry’s office. “The bottom line is that the law and constitution still apply. We are grateful to Judge Doughty for protecting their rights and upholding the rule of law, and we will continue to work toward an acceptable resolution.”

“Even during a pandemic, we must protect the rights of our citizens,” proclaimed Landry. “I’m pleased with the court’s decision and glad these students can focus on what’s important: their education.”

“These complaints have included recordings of conversations with VCOM staff engaging in harassing and coercive conduct targeting students who have exercised their right to opt-out of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine,” Landry announced in July according to The Center Square.

“We’re very happy with the decision,” said Michael DuBos who is the attorney representing the VCOM students. “We feel it is important to respect individual rights, especially in a time of crisis. If not, it sets a dangerous precedent.”

The temporary restraining order will reportedly remain in effect pending the final outcome of the case.

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