Students sue Catholic university for denying them vaccine exemptions on religious grounds

A COVID-19 vaccination injection is administered.
A COVID-19 vaccination injection is administered. | Unsplash/Mufid Majnun

Four pro-life students are suing a Catholic university for denying their request to obtain religious exemptions from the coronavirus vaccine.

Creighton University, a Jesuit-affiliated school with campuses in Omaha, Nebraska, and Phoenix, Arizona, is the subject of a lawsuit by four of its students, who are challenging the newly instituted requirement that students provide proof that they have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine before they can attend classes on campus. While the university allows students to request medical exemptions from the vaccine requirement, it does not allow exemptions based on religious objections.

The lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, on Wednesday by attorney Robert Sullivan on behalf of Creighton University students Lauren Ramaekers, Patrice Quadrel, Sarah Stinsel and Jane Doe. It noted that Creighton University set Sept. 7 as the deadline for all students to receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Any student who did not receive at least one dose of the vaccine by this time was to be “‘unenrolled’ or administratively withdrawn after 4:30 p.m. on that date.” 

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“Each of the plaintiffs have religious objections to the Covid-19 vaccines based on the fact that the vaccines were developed and/or tested using abortion derived fetal cell lines and some have serious medical conditions which make the vaccine ‘not recommended,’” Sullivan wrote. The use of vaccines “developed and/or tested using abortion derived fetal cell lines” has divided the Catholic Church, which is known for its outspoken opposition to abortion. 

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans has urged faithful Catholics to refrain from taking the “morally compromised” single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its use of aborted fetal cells in production and testing. Meanwhile, the Vatican has assured Catholics that “it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.” 

Catholic World Report noted that Ramaekers received a letter from Tanya Winegard, Creighton vice provost for student life, informing her that “Creighton University communicated to you that vaccination documentation of your first vaccine dose must be submitted by Sept. 7, 2021.” Winegard told Ramaekers that “Student Health Education and Compliance (SHEC) records indicate that you have not submitted the required documentation. Therefore, you are in violation of the Creighton University Standards of Conduct.”

The lawsuit maintained that because the students “have been attending classes since the semester started, and Defendant has accepted tuition money and other fees the Plaintiffs have paid,” the university had entered into a binding contract with the students.

Sullivan argued that keeping the plaintiffs’ tuition money while expelling them from campus for refusing to take the coronavirus vaccine constituted a breach of the contract. The lawsuit asked a judge to order Creighton to “re-enroll and [reinstate] Plaintiffs to Creighton University, and enjoining Defendant from expelling, unenrolling, disciplining, retaliating against, or otherwise restricting all students’ access to classes, and any other service or privilege afforded to the students of Creighton University due to their vaccination status.”

On Sept. 2, Sullivan sent a letter to the president and board of Creighton University seeking relief for his clients. He never received a response and filed the lawsuit shortly thereafter.

Ramaekers was scheduled to graduate from Creighton in December 2021. Quadrel had completed 97 credits of coursework while Sinsel was on track to graduate from dental school at Creighton at the conclusion of the 2021-'22 academic year.

As noted in the lawsuit, Creighton University’s student population has an extremely high vaccination rate of more than 93%. By contrast, according to Johns Hopkins University, just under 55% of the U.S. population as a whole is fully vaccinated. 

Creighton University is not the only institution of higher learning to embrace a vaccine mandate for its students. A case challenging Indiana University’s vaccine mandate went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed the case, thereby leaving the mandate in place. A.T. Still University School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Missouri amended its vaccine mandate to accommodate religious exemptions for two Christian dental students following legal action. 

Last week, President Joe Biden announced that he was directing the U.S. Department of Labor to institute mandates on businesses with over 100 employees, requiring their employees to either get vaccinated or produce at least one negative coronavirus test per week. Threats of legal action soon followed. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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