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Judge blocks Western Michigan University vaccine rules for athletes

Amy Facchinello, center, a Grand Blanc school board member, cheers on a parent who spoke against the county's K-6 school mask mandate during public comment as more than 100 people pack the Harris Auditorium at a Genesee County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday at the county administration building in downtown Flint. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

LANSING (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Western Michigan University from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement against four female soccer players, ruling they are likely to prevail on claims it violates their constitutional religious rights.

District Judge Paul Maloney in Grand Rapids, however, denied a motion by an employee who challenged Michigan State University’s broader vaccination mandate.

He issued the temporary restraining order on the day of Western’s deadline for athletes to get an initial shot or be unable to practice or compete. He said while the university had not had an opportunity to respond to the lawsuit that was filed Monday, the mandate is subject to strict scrutiny because it burdens the free exercise of religion.

Western’s vaccine requirement does not extend to all students and employees, though the unvaccinated do have to undergo weekly coronavirus testing. The four athletes — Emily Dahl, Hannah Redoute, Bailey Korhorn and Morgan Otteson — said they were denied religious exemptions to play without getting a dose.