2 Christian dental school students win fight against university’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Two Christian dental school students were finally granted religious exemptions from taking the COVID-19 vaccine after Liberty Counsel intervened on their behalf. 

Sharon Murza and Ashley Swanson, who are both enrolled at A.T. Still University School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Kirksville, Missouri, hold sincere religious beliefs that prohibit them from taking the vaccine.

The two students were granted permission to continue their courses without being required to take COVID-19 vaccinations only after a letter was sent to the university from Liberty Counsel, a Christian law firm that advocates for religious freedom and is representing the students. 

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According to the Liberty Counsel, the letter sent to the university by its founder and Chairman, Mat Staver, said, “failure to grant requested exemptions to both students would violate both federal and state law.”

“Forcing any person to receive one of these Covid injections is a violation of federal law,” Staver added. “The Covid injections are not licensed by the FDA and are still in the investigation and experimental phase.” 

Murza and Swanson represent just two of many cases in the country of students who have fought back against their universities' vaccination policies. Some students cite religious reasons for seeking exemptions — as they have for other vaccines — or have medical concerns, or already have a natural immunity to the virus from a previous infection

However, liberation from school vaccination mandates doesn't often come without a fight. In Murza’s and Swanson’s case, they faced rejection on multiple occasions from their university before they resorted to seeking legal help.

Initially, when Murza and Swanson applied for an exemption, the university delayed its response to their request because it claimed there was “unsubstantiated evidence,” even after both students explained their beliefs and what complying with their religion’s procedural requirements entails. They also explained they were willing to follow all other COVID-19 safety protocols the university requires. 

Liberty Counsel’s letter to ATSU, which eventually led to both students being excused from having to get vaccinated, said: “Murza and Swanson supplied all of the evidence requested or necessary, and they are legally entitled to an exemption based upon their sincerely held religious beliefs. FDA regulations prohibit making the currently available emergency-authorized injections mandatory, and the Missouri Human Rights Act, prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion by places of public accommodation, including private universities.”

ATSU’s legal counsel later advised Liberty Counsel that the university had changed its decision and had now approved the religious exemption requested by Murza and Swanson, granting them the exemptions.  

“Even if they were licensed by the FDA, employers and schools must respect a person’s personal and religious decision to not inject a drug into their body,” Staver added. “No employer or government may force or coerce anyone to take these injections, and certainly not when doing so violates sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

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