The University of Minnesota Duluth student challenging the University of Minnesota's decision to require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine has withdrawn his request for an immediate court order ahead of the university's vaccine requirement deadline on Friday.
The unnamed student, represented by CrossCastle, withdrew the request for immediate action after a U of M attorney informed them that "sincerely held religious belief" exemptions include nonreligious and conscientious beliefs. The law firm claimed in a news release that the university "reversed" and "changed its position" on what it deems a religious exemption, but the affidavit filed by the university's general counsel suggests otherwise.
"We have not changed our position, we have not reversed course, and to suggest otherwise is completely false," UMD spokesperson Lynne Williams said in response to the law firm's claim.
Systemwide, the U of M had received roughly 1,400 requests for vaccine exemption due to sincerely held religious beliefs as of Monday. None have been denied for reasons based on merit, the affidavit said, while 136 were denied due to compliance reasons, "such as failure to provide a notarized statement," and can be resubmitted.
"Thus, there is zero evidence before the court that petitioner would not qualify for an exemption if he applied. As a result, petitioner cannot show that his normal legal remedy, which is to follow University procedures, apply for a sincerely held religious belief, and if, and only if, his exemption request is denied, challenge that denial," Senior Associate General Counsel Dan Herber wrote.
In its vaccine form, the U of M states that students are eligible to file for a religious exemption if the COVID-19 vaccination is contrary to "sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance," but doesn't explicitly state "conscientiously held beliefs, which the petitioner points out is included in the Minnesota's college immunization as a legal reason for vaccine exemption."
The UMD student continues to challenge the requirement on the grounds that state statute allows the Minnesota Department of Health to propose requiring new vaccines, but has not done so.
"Relevant to this matter, more than a dozen Minnesota higher education institutions have implemented COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their students," Herber wrote. "The University is not aware of any effort by (the Minnesota Department of Health) to halt those mandates."
CrossCastle submitted a letter to the Judge Eric Hylden on Wednesday saying the change allows the court to cancel the hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Nearly 94% of UMD's approximately 10,000 students had submitted their forms pledging that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Monday, while nearly 6% had filed for religious exemptions and 0.16% sought medical exemptions, according to the U of M's affidavit.