Court: Maricopa Community Colleges Must Honor Nursing Students’ Religious Exemption for COVID-19 Vaccine

November 14, 2021

By Corinne Murdock |

Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) may not prohibit nursing students with a religious objection to the COVID-19 vaccine from completing clinical rotations due to being unvaccinated, according to the U.S. District Court for Arizona. U.S. District Judge Steven Logan issued the ruling Friday, as he’d promised at the hearing on Monday. The two plaintiffs – nursing students Emily Thoms and Kamaleilani Moreno – were granted a preliminary injunction against MCCCD’s vaccination requirement. Thoms and Moreno will be able to complete their nursing programs one way or another, whether by accommodation or through regular clinical rotations, by their scheduled graduation date next month.

“Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of both of their claims, that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent injunction, and that the balance of equities and the public interest weigh in their favor,” wrote Logan. “Their case is not doubtful, and the harm that they have alleged – the violation of their constitutional and fundamental right to free exercise – is an injury of the highest order under the Constitution and the law. Such an injury cannot be remedied by damages.”

While MCCCD claimed that they required universal vaccination due to their clinical partners’ requirements, Logan cited evidence given by the plaintiffs to the contrary. This evidence included MCCCD previously providing similar accommodations to other students for both religious and non-religious reasons: simulated clinicals, extra assignments, finding new clinical sites, and swapping assigned clinic sites requiring vaccination with those that didn’t.

Logan did note that Thoms and Moreno hurt their case by framing the lawsuit as a challenge to a “vaccine mandate,” because MCCCD doesn’t define its vaccine requirements as a mandate. For that reason, Logan modified their request for relief.

“The only vaccine mandates in this case belong to Defendant’s clinical partners, who are not parties before the Court. Rather, Defendant’s Policy is a set of requirements that together, when applied to Plaintiffs, are likely to substantially burden Plaintiffs’ right to freely exercise their sincere religious beliefs in violation of FERA and the First Amendment, to cause Plaintiffs irreparable harm, and to go against the public interest,” wrote Logan.

Both Christians, Thoms and Moreno objected to the COVID-19 vaccine due to its reliance on fetal cell lines during its testing, development, and production.

MCCCD Board Member Kathleen Winn criticized the district’s decision to hire a group of attorneys just to fight two nursing students. She also asserted that the nursing department head lied in court.

When this started back in August the administration could have done what this judge ordered us to do here. Instead we hired 5 attorneys to fight against these nursing students who represent thousands more in our state. The head of our nursing department lied in court, was caught and the judge made the best decision for these students allowing them their religious exemptions. If we appeal we are using taxpayers money to do so. Stand with these nursing students…I am proud of them and the moral courage to put it all on the line for the greater good!

Read the full court ruling here.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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