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CU Anschutz doctor and med student sue over COVID vaccine mandate

The lawsuit argues the university's administrators are judging the “veracity” of personal religious beliefs, in violation of the First Amendment.

DENVER — A pediatrician and a medical student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are challenging the school's denials of their requests for religious exemptions from the school’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. 

Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit firm based in Chicago, filed the lawsuit Wednesday. They argue the university's administrators are judging the “veracity” of personal religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

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The doctor and medical student are named in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, M.D. and John Doe. The lawsuit says both "have sincere religious objections to the COVID vaccines currently available to them" because of the tenets of their faiths. The doctor is Roman Catholic and the student is Buddhist, according to the suit. 

The school's COVID-19 vaccine policy allows exemptions for certain medical and religious reasons. According to the lawsuit, the policy says “A religious exemption may be submitted based on a person’s religious belief whose teachings [sic] are opposed to all immunizations.” 

The lawsuit argues this phrase imposes two necessary conditions for religious accommodations: that the person has a sincere religious belief that opposes acceptance of all vaccines, and that the person is a member of an organized religion whose tenets include a position on the moral legitimacy of vaccines. 

The lawsuit argues both of these conditions are forbidden by the U.S. and Colorado constitutions. 

"Our vaccination policy is critical for the School of Medicine to provide a safe and healthy place for our students to learn, our patients to receive care, and our faculty and staff to work," the School of Medicine said in a statement in response to the lawsuit. "Each year, School of Medicine faculty members provide care for more than 2 million patients and our mandatory vaccination requirement offers the best way to protect the patients in their care. We have adopted this policy in recognition of our responsibility to provide public health leadership in our state and beyond."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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