University of Colorado Sued For Denying COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemptions

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 29, 2021, a pediatrician and medical student sued the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU) for denying COVID vaccine religious exemptions. The U.S. District Court lawsuit argued that school administrators judge the validity of personal religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

Religious Exception For COVID Vaccine.

Both plaintiffs are challenging the denial of their requests for religious exemptions from the school’s COVID vaccination mandate. The lawsuit alleges that the university arbitrarily grants religious exemptions to its vaccine requirement for all staff and students. It also claims that CU is approving requests that are based on organized religious beliefs that oppose vaccinations while subjecting requests based on personal religious beliefs to “intrusive religious inquisition to test the veracity of students’ and employees’ asserted religious beliefs.”

Details of the Denials.

Neither plaintiff is named in the lawsuit ostensibly to protect them from retaliation. Instead, the pediatrician is referred to as “Dr. Jane Doe,” and the first-year medical student as “John Doe.”

According to the complaint, Dr. Jane Doe requested a religious exemption based on her Catholic beliefs and opposition to “abortion-derived cell lines” used in the three available U.S. vaccines. However, she did not oppose other vaccines, such as the flu shot.

Because of this, CU denied her request, stating that campus policy “only recognizes religious exemptions based on a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations,” according to the complaint. Jane Doe argues that her pending termination will harm her reputation and stain her record as a licensed medical professional.

According to the complaint, the second plaintiff, John Doe, a first-year medical student, requested a religious exemption citing his Buddhist beliefs and avoidance of “products developed through the killing or harming of animals (including human beings).”

CU officials also denied the exception request, stating that John Doe’s objections to the vaccine “are all of a personal nature and not part of a comprehensive system of religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit says John Doe’s pending termination from CU would bar him from transferring to a different medical school under guidelines issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges and that he would have to reapply to attend a different U.S. medical program.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the university said their mandatory vaccine policy “offers the best way to protect” the more than two million patients that the university faculty serve annually.

Both plaintiffs seek approval of their requests for religious exemptions and money for court costs and personal damages. This lawsuit is just one example of the fight over a growing number of COVID vaccine mandates nationwide. As a result, businesses need to be mindful and provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID vaccine.

To read about another recent case regarding a hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, medical groups, institutions, and individual health professionals in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health and DORA investigations. We represent medical students and resident physicians in disputes with their medical education programs. We do NOT represent plaintiffs seeking to avoid vaccinations or in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at


Nieberg, Patty. “University of Colorado faces COVID religious exemption suit.” AP News. (September 29, 2021). Web.

“Pediatrician, medical student sue University of Colorado over denial of COVID vaccine religious exemption.” The Colorado Sun. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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