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Students Challenge Loyola’s Rejections to Vaccine Exemption Requests

Zack Miller | Loyola PhoenixLoyola signage reminds students to wear a mask and remain socially distant while on campus.

After requiring all students get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus, Loyola allowed dozens of exemptions because of legal threats.

More than 40 Loyola students, who were previously denied exemption from the university’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement, used the legal services of Liberty Counsel —  a Christian non-profit organization — to get the exemptions approved, according to an Aug. 11 Liberty Counsel press release.

Students were informed of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in an April 22 email, The Phoenix reported. All students who didn’t show proof of vaccination or receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons by Aug. 6 wouldn’t be allowed to attend classes in-person, live on-campus or get access to campus buildings among other things. 

Loyola accepted 11 exemption requests after receiving a “demand letter” from Liberty Counsel threatening a lawsuit if the exemptions weren’t granted by Aug. 5 before 10:00 a.m., according to an Aug. 5 press release. More than 30 additional students contacted Liberty Counsel subsequently and were all granted exemptions by Aug. 11, according to the Aug. 11 press release

The first demand letter was sent to Loyola officials June 21, a few months after the COVID-19 vaccine requirement was announced, according to the Aug. 5 press release

All the students who were represented by Liberty Counsel initially applied for a COVID-19 vaccine exemption on account of a religious belief that forbids them from taking vaccines that are “produced or tested with fetal cell lines” derived from abortions, according to the Aug. 5 press release.

Liberty Counsel said the students don’t have an issue with other required immunizations, but oppose COVID-19 vaccines because of its connection with abortions — which they believe is a “grave sin.”

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Students who have been given an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine must comply with on-campus surveillance testing.

Although the three available COVID-19 vaccines used fetal cell lines during the testing, development or production process, none of the vaccines directly contain aborted fetal cells, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Fetal cell lines are cells that grow in a laboratory,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare states on their website. “They descend from cells taken from elective abortions in the 1970s and 1980s. Those individual cells from the 1970s and 1980s have since multiplied into many new cells over the past four or five decades, creating fetal cell lines. Current fetal cell lines are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue.”

While Liberty Counsel is an evangelical Christian organization, Pope Francis  — head of the Catholic Church — came out in support of taking the vaccine: announcing that it is “morally acceptable.”   

Loyola spokesperson Anna Rozenich said the decision to require all students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was made in an effort to protect the community.

“Loyola University Chicago’s immunization/vaccination requirement is informed by our Jesuit, Catholic commitment to the common good, solidarity, and justice, and the guidance offered by the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Holy See through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Rozenich said in a statement to The Phoenix.  

Liberty Counsel said in the Aug. 5 press release the university’s decision to deny students a COVID-19 vaccine exemption violated Loyola’s nondiscrimination policy, Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, Illinois’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act among other federal and state laws. 

“Loyola University needs to drop its unlawful mandate immediately,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said in the press release. “Forcing any person to receive one of these COVID injections is a violation of both state and federal law.” 

Despite the legal group’s claims that a COVID-19 vaccine requirement is unlawful, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Indiana University’s vaccine requirement, which, similar to Loyola, required all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they were exempt for medical or religious reasons. 

“The right of universities to issue vaccine mandates has been upheld recently in the federal courts and the just issued gubernatorial order in Illinois further supports vaccine mandates involving educators and students,” John Blum, a law professor at Loyola said. 

Although the students objected to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement, they told Loyola officials they would comply with other COVID-19 related guidelines set by the university, according to an Aug. 4 email sent to Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Pamela Costas. 

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