| By Corinne Murdock ||
Two nursing students, Emily Thoms and Kamaleilani Moreno, are fighting for their religious freedom in the face of Maricopa County Community College District’s (MCCCD) vaccine mandate. The district is mandating vaccines to accommodate the requirements of those health care providers per their partnership agreements. Both Thoms and Moreno were denied religious exemptions – an objection to the use of fetal cell lines to either test or produce the COVID-19 vaccines in the market currently – because doing so would place “an undue hardship” on MCCCD. Thoms and Moreno must either get vaccinated and violate their religious beliefs, or effectively never complete their nursing program with MCCCD.
“The pressure the District has placed on [the plaintiffs] to forfeit their religious convictions or their academic programs is unreal and unprecedented and more than some of them could withstand, as the District fully expected. They have figuratively walked through fire and wait just beyond the flames to see if everything they have worked for will go up in smoke because they refuse to sacrifice their sincerely held religious beliefs to mollify an uncompromising District,” asserted the complaint. “[The plaintiffs] oppose abortion and believe it is the sinful killing of innocents and strictly prohibited by their Christian faith, as is the use of abortion-derived fetal cell lines for medical or research purposes. It would be an unthinkable and complicit act in abortion and a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs and moral consciences to take any of the COVID-19 vaccines, given their use of testing.”
In a separate explanation of their vaccine mandate, MCCCD said their decision was supported previously by an executive order issued by Governor Doug Ducey last year. The district did promise that it would review all religious and disability accommodations, noting that each partnered health care provider had their own procedures for religious and disability accommodations. However, even with an approved exemption, MCCCD disclosed that it couldn’t guarantee clinical placement that may result in removal from the course.
MCCCD’s characterization of having its hands tied when it comes to vaccine requirements for clinical placements may not be entirely accurate. According to the complaint, MCCCD did confirm with Thoms and Moreno that at least three health care centers do allow for unvaccinated students without exemptions to participate in clinical rotations, at least two health care centers allow unvaccinated students based on religious or other exemptions to participate in clinical rotations, at least one health care center allows MCCCD to determine whether or not students must be vaccinated, and at least one health care center hasn’t issued an official vaccination requirement for clinical rotations. In total, the complaint alleged that MCCCD didn’t know the vaccination requirements for 28 of its 36 major clinical partners – not including their affiliates.
According to the complaint, MCCCD alleged that their sweeping vaccine mandate was necessary because they randomly assign clinical placements and a student might end up at a partnering health care center that requires universal COVID-19 vaccination. Thoms and Moreno’s attorney, Colleen Auer, asserted in the complaint that this was false. She noted that students may pick their top three clinical site preferences and MCCCD assigns based on those selections.
Noncompliance with the mandate will cost Thoms and Moreno several years of time, money, and sacrifices they’ve invested into the program. In several weeks, they will be dropped from their clinical rotations and prevented from receiving their associate’s degree in nursing in December.
U.S. District Judge Steven Paul Logan is scheduled to hear the case on Monday: a week before MCCCD’s fall clinical rotations begin and the deadline for showing proof of vaccination, November 8. That’s also the date that the Biden Administration suggested for compliance with their vaccine mandate.
The Office of Personnel Management informed federal employees and companies with over 100 workers that the second dosage of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the first dosage of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, must occur on or before November 8 for full compliance.
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