After a court ruling against them earlier this month, Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) honored the religious exemptions of two students who objected to the use of fetal cell lines to develop, test, and produce the COVID-19 vaccine. The two nursing students, Emily Thoms and Kamaleilani Moreno, were needing to complete clinical rotations to finish their final semester of MCCCD’s nursing program. Thoms and Moreno were given their requested 36 hours of capstone experience in clinical care, scheduled to begin and end in time for their expected graduation date next month.
In court, MCCCD argued that a blanket rejection of religious exemptions was necessary for their nursing program due to the vaccination requirement of some of their clinical partners and their program’s random assignment of clinical rotations. U.S. District Judge Steven Logan rejected that rationale based on the arguments of Thoms and Moreno: their lawyer pointed out that MCCCD gave similar accommodations to other students for both religious and non-religious reasons.
Logan asserted that Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act (FERA) was enacted to prevent the very choice that MCCCD was forcing Thoms and Moreno to make.
The burden imposed here by denying Plaintiffs their nursing degrees […] cannot be characterized as ‘trivial, technical, or de minimis.’ […] By denying Plaintiffs their nursing degrees, Defendant prevents them from becoming licensed and employed as nurses. They will be unable to join the profession to which they have devoted themselves for the past two years. Given the time and money that Plaintiffs have invested in their nursing education, Defendant’s Policy undoubtedly places substantial pressure on them to modify their behavior in violation of their beliefs. Plaintiffs are faced with the choice of, on the one hand, compromising their religious beliefs to complete their clinicals and graduate as expected […] or, on the other, adhering to their beliefs and giving up the nursing degrees to which they are otherwise entitled and all their associated benefits for the indefinite future.
Another argument MCCCD presented was the claim that Thoms and Moreno were only facing a temporary delay, not complete removal from the program. However, they couldn’t guarantee when, if ever, Thoms and Moreno could complete the program. The ability for Thoms and Moreno to finish relied on clinical placement with a partner that didn’t require vaccination: a future contingency which MCCCD couldn’t guarantee completely. Logan asserted that MCCCD’s inability to decisively ensure completion of the program wasn’t a “mere delay.”
“It is difficult to characterize these circumstances as a mere delay when there is no clear end date when the Plaintiffs will be able to graduate,” ruled Logan.
MCCCD’s prompt compliance with the court order was likely influenced in part by the language of Logan’s ruling. The judge asserted that the harm Thoms and Kamaleilani would’ve experienced under MCCCD would constitute “an injury of the highest order” pertaining to the Constitution’s religious freedoms.
“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.”
Logan heard the case last month, and issued a preliminary injunction against MCCCD that same week. Logan’s order is reproduced below:
The Court enters a preliminary injunction as follows: 1. Defendant is preliminarily enjoined from enforcing against Plaintiffs its requirements that nursing students satisfy the vaccination policies of their assigned clinical partners and that nursing students must complete their assigned in-person clinical rotations in order to complete their academic programs. 2. Defendants shall make available to Plaintiffs a suitable accommodation that will allow Plaintiffs to satisfy the clinical components of their coursework and complete their academic programs as scheduled in December 2021. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court exercises its discretion and waives the requirement of a security bond accompanying this preliminary injunction.
On Monday, the U.S. District Court for Arizona held a hearing to determine whether senior nursing students Emily Thoms and Kamaleilani Moreno will be granted an injunction for Maricopa County Community College District’s (MCCCD) vaccine mandate for participation in clinical rotations, necessary for the two to complete their programs.
As AZ Free News reported, Thoms and Moreno have just one week before MCCCD’s vaccination deadline and the start of clinical rotations. Thoms and Moreno are seeking an affirmative injunction against the vaccine mandate; the district court expedited the case due to the timing of the deadline and clinical rotations.
Thoms and Moreno filed their complaint after MCCCD denied their religious exemption requests. The district claimed that offering exemptions would jeopardize their partnership agreements with certain health care providers and place an undue hardship on the district. These claims were rejected by Thoms and Morenos’ lawyer repeatedly in court Monday, citing several health care providers that didn’t require COVID-19 vaccination.
Thoms and Moreno’s religious objections concerned how aborted fetal cell lines were used in the development and testing of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those are lab-grown cells based on the cells derived from aborted fetal remains obtained in the 1970s and 1980s.
Christians believe that God creates a new life at conception, and will cite concepts such as “one flesh” in Genesis 2, God’s formation of man in the womb in Psalm 139, and the recognition of Jesus as alive shortly after he was conceived in Luke 1.
During Monday’s hearing, MCCCD had five lawyers while Thoms and Moreno had only one, Colleen Auer. U.S. District Judge Steven Paul Logan presided over the case – he was appointed by previous President Barack Obama in 2014.
From the get-go, it appeared that Logan was skeptical of MCCCD’s position. Near the beginning of the hearing, Logan asked the defense to clarify if they were forcing students to get a vaccine that wouldn’t protect them or their patients from COVID-19. The judge’s question likely relates to the developing studies on breakthrough infections among the vaccinated – some recent studies show as little as 1 in 5,000 vaccinated individuals experience breakthrough cases, while others show as high as 1 in 100.
The crux of Thoms and Moreno’s argument was that MCCCD’s mandate effectively would require them to either act against their religious beliefs or sacrifice all of their investments and, effectively, careers.
MCCCD claimed that Thoms and Moreno wouldn’t be given failing grades for not complying. Rather, they would receive an “incomplete” grade and would need to resume the unfulfilled portion of their studies later. MCCCD didn’t add that Thoms and Moreno may never be able to complete their studies without the vaccination.
Auer bucked MCCCD’s statements. She claimed that MCCCD either gave Thoms and Moreno no information or misinformation. She emphasized that these nursing programs are difficult to be accepted into, with long wait lists.
“The realities are that it took them very long times to get into these programs,” stated Auer.“ It’s not possible or guaranteed as [MCCCD] claimed that they will ever be able to finish these clinicals in the [near future.]”
MCCCD’s attorneys argued that Thoms and Moreno didn’t qualify for an immediate affirmative injunction because they wouldn’t suffer irreparable injuries. They also claimed that an incomplete grade would only be a “delay by a matter of months,” which wouldn’t have a lasting negative impact on the students. “Plaintiffs will not suffer irreparable injury. They’re not being compelled to take the vaccine, they’re not being given failed grades,” said defense. “What we’re talking about is a slight delay in completing their course work.”
MCCCD’s lawyers also claimed that Thoms and Moreno’s religious freedom arguments were unrelated to MCCCD’s refusal to grant either an exemption. They said it was a neutral policy that applied to all nursing students, made on the basis of a rational basis review via a legitimate government-based purpose. If MCCCD did accommodate Thoms and Moreno, the lawyers argued that such an exemption would cause financial and administrative burdens, as well as cause potential contractual harm.
Auer rejected the characterization of MCCCD’s vaccine mandates as a neutral policy.
“The fact is, this is not a neutral policy. It selects certain folks to get the religious advantage based on the luck of their clinical assignment,” stated Auer. “They were put to the choice: if you want to continue your program and complete it as you contracted for, […] you must sacrifice your religious beliefs or you won’t get that, period. They’re pulling services for which these people paid, for which they’re entitled, with no certainty of what the district says.”
Additionally, MCCCD indicated that there was a public health interest to require vaccinations. Auer questioned which was the greater public health interest – a few vaccinated nurses but a workforce shortage, or plenty of nurses.
“The public is going to lose out on graduating nurses right here right now at a time where they need those nurses,” said Auer. “There’s a shortage of nurses here and across the country. It doesn’t matter if they’re vaccinated or if they’re not – they need them in the COVID-19 wards.”
Judge Logan stated that he would take the briefing under advisement. The order will be issued Thursday by 5 pm.
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.
They went from denying Critical Race Theory exists, to denying it is taught in schools and universities, then claiming it is exclusively researched in law schools, suing parents requesting access to their child’s curriculum, to now just openly defying new laws prohibiting CRT to continue indoctrinating and propagandizing students with anti-white bigotry.
But around the country, citizens have stepped up to push against schools, school boards, universities, and government agencies pushing CRT. State legislatures have stepped up too. In Arizona, Republicans successfully passed, and the Governor signed, two bills prohibiting this ideology.
HB2906, sponsored by Representative Jake Hoffman, prohibits any government agency or political subdivision of the state from expending public monies for or requiring as training anything that presents any blame or judgement on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity. Additionally, in the K-12 budget, HB2898, are provisions to prohibit the same CRT tenets in K-12 schools and comes with teeth for enforcement: $5,000 fines for schools in violation and up to the suspension or revocation of teaching licenses.
The Maricopa County Community College District’s (MCCCD) decision last month to approve a $155,000 settlement to a Scottsdale Community College professor ensures the district, the college, and staff members will not be sued for how they handled an Islamic student’s complaint against the professor.
Nicholas Damask received the payout in response to an October 2020 notice of claim against college officials who publicly criticized the longtime professor’s curriculum in a World Politics course. A notice of claim is mandated by state law before a lawsuit can be initiated against the state or any political subdivision, including boards, commissions, committees, and districts.
Damask has agreed to not make negative statements about District employees nor how they handled the student’s April 2020 complaint about quiz questions related to terrorism and Islam. His attorney was to receive $30,000 of the settlement, public records show.
In a related matter, a federal lawsuit filed by the student in June 2020 against Damask and the District in an effort to stop the professor from teaching about negative aspects of Islam was dismissed by Judge Susan Brnovich of the U.S. District Court. The lawsuit alleged the professor required students to express agreement with anti-Islam views in order to receive a passing grade.
An appeal of the dismissal is pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The District has until April 23 to file its response and Damask has a May 21 deadline.
Damask’s initial claim against MCCCD sought $500,000 based on his contention that Scottsdale Community College officials placed the professor’s reputation in question by not doing enough to defend him against the student’s allegations. The claim also cited concerns for the safety of Damask and his family stemming from threats stoked by the controversy.
Within days of the student’s complaint -which was fueled by social media attention- the college president publicly apologized for the professor’s conduct, disparaged the quiz questions, and said Damask would issue an apology. However, MCCCD Interim Chancellor Steven Gonzales contradicted the college president by issuing an apology to Damask.
Gonzales also bemoaned Scottsdale Community College’s “rush to judgment” undertaken without “full consideration for our professor’s right of academic freedom.”
In response to the student’s complaint, Damask argued that the disputed questions dealt specifically with a section of the coursework about terroristic sects within Islam. Similar sects in other religions were also covered in the class, he said.
One outcome of Damask pushing back on how the student’s complaint was handled is that district officials undertook a review of policies and training for how to respond to such matters. That review led to plans to establish a Committee on Academic Freedom.
The settlement also restates that faculty members will have the freedom to choose the materials they use with a course curriculum.