CU Anschutz sued over religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine

Ellie Myers  

[email protected] 

     On Sept. 29, members of the CU sued CU Anschutz over the university’s denial of certain religious beliefs to qualify for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 

     According to the verified complaint, two plaintiffs claim the campus dismissal of their religious objections to the vaccine violates both the first and 14th Amendments to the Constitution regarding personal freedom of speech and religion.  

     According to the official suit, the lawsuit was filed after email correspondence between the university and both plaintiffs. Original emails from the university asked why the plaintiffs objected to the vaccine, evaluated the reasoning provided and subsequently rejected the exemptions.  

     A doctor and a medical student — the complainants — are named in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, M.D. and John Doe for anonymity.  

     Jane Doe is a Roman Catholic pediatric physician at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado Springs. The complaint says that she faces firing from the university and will consequently be unable to practice medicine through the campus or potentially throughout Colorado for two years.  

     John Doe is a Buddhist first-year student who is now banned from all Anschutz campuses because of his religious objections to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the suit. Meaning, if he wants to continue his medical education, he will need to apply to another university. 

     Regarding religious exemption, the vaccine administrative policy for CU Anschutz states: “A religious exemption may be submitted based on a person’s religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations.” 

     The key phrase for this case is “all immunizations.” The exchanges outlined in the complaint show that both plaintiffs object to the COVID-19 vaccine due to the use of cell lines originally sourced from aborted fetuses during its development and/or testing, and do not object to every vaccine.  

     The senior associate dean of medical education and one of the specific defendants, Shanta Zimmer, is quoted as responding to John Doe’s request after an investigation: “The basis for your objections are all of a personal nature and not part of a comprehensive system of religious beliefs.” 

     The primary question debated in the suit is whether the school has the right to decide what makes a legitimate religious objection, which is subjective. The plaintiffs argue that CU is infringing on their religious freedom by trying to judge their beliefs as too personal to be legitimately religious.  

     CU Anschutz’s media statement states: “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 … We have adopted this policy in recognition of our responsibility to provide public health leadership in our state and beyond.” 

     Jane and John Doe claim in the suit that their religious objection stems from the idea of scientists using aborted fetal cell lines to create the vaccine, which both of them believe to be a violation of human life. 

     According to UCLA Health, the vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells, but Johnson & Johnson used fetal cell lines in development and production while Pfizer and Moderna used them in testing. These cell lines date back to the 1970s.      

     UCLA’s website states, “[The cell lines] are now thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue. None of the COVID-19 vaccines use fetal cells derived from recent abortions.” 

     UCLA also noted that the California Catholic Conference officially stated their support for the vaccines, and Pope Francis has given his approval as well in a Vatican statement allowing for the morality of taking the vaccine.  

CU Anschutz, photo courtesy of