KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A federal judge on Sept. 9 extended his order blocking Western Michigan University from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement against 16 athletes.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney issued a ruling from the bench granting the athletes the right to continue to compete and participate in intercollegiate athletics until he issues an opinion and order on converting a temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction.

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Unlike other Michigan universities, Western’s vaccine requirement does not extend to all students and employees, although the unvaccinated must undergo weekly coronavirus testing. The athletes say they were denied religious exemptions to play without getting a dose.

“We appreciate Judge Maloney’s ruling that will allow all the student-athletes to continue to be part of their teams, be with their teammates, and compete for WMU at the highest level in a safe manner.,” said David Kallman, an attorney for the athletes. “Judge Maloney upheld the First Amendment religious conscience rights of our clients and demonstrated there is a limit to government exercise of power when it violates fundamental Constitutional rights.”

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A spokeswoman for the Kalamazoo-based school said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The case was brought initially by four female soccer players. It now includes participants in the football, baseball, women’s basketball, dance team, and cross country programs.

WMU recently instituted a requirement for all its athletes in all sports to take the COVID-19 vaccine or forfeit their right to play intercollegiate sports. No similar vaccine requirement exists for any other students at WMU. Other universities, including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, are granting religious accommodations to their athletes.

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