Officials at Oakland University of Michigan have been told they need to apologize to a former student who was evicted from campus housing for sharing information about COVID-19 vaccination exemptions, and erase the disciplinary action they took against her.
Or, perhaps be found liable for punitive damages.
It is First Liberty Institute that has sent a letter to the school’s president, Ora Pescovitz, Dean Michael Wadsworth, and general counsel Boyd Farnam.
The letter insists on the apology to Inara Ramazanova, who was evicted from campus housing, forcing her to spend to final semester at home. The school also created a disciplinary record against her.
“Punishing a student for exercising their free speech is not only illegal, it’s outrageous. Kicking them out of their housing and damaging their future pursuits is punitive and vindictive,” explained Justin Butterfield, deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute. “The university violated Inara’s constitutional rights and the Fair Housing Act. They owe her an apology and a clean academic record.”
The institute reported it was last summer, when fear over COVID was engulfing the academic community across America, that Ramazanova sought a religious accommodation from the school’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Those mandates have been contested in a long list of cases already, including for the reason that they were experimental. Further, there were huge religious objections because they were developed using strains of cells derived from abortions.
The student’s request for an accommodation would have allowed her to live on campus for the 2021-22 school year. And it was granted. But then she shared information about her request online, and the school claimed then that was “collusion or conspiracy.”
Officials evicted her.
The institute confirmed, “Many members of the Facebook group were asking questions on how to best express their sincerely held religious beliefs and receive a religious accommodation.”
“OU’s disciplining and evicting Ms. Ramazanova because she shared about her religious convictions regarding vaccination and about how she sought and received a religious accommodation from OU—all in an effort to more effectively exercise her civil rights and aid others in doing the same—violated Mr. Ramazanova’s rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech and religious exercise, and the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits both religious discrimination in housing and taking actions against a person for aiding others in having their religious rights in housing respected,” the legal team explained in its message to the school.
The letter noted Ramazanova was an exemplary student, collecting numerous scholarships and achieving excellent grades, before she graduated five months early.
The dispute arose, however, over the school’s demand students submit to the experimental shots.
Its exemption process, however, allowed those students to attend class and live on-campus, if they were tested regularly.
In preparing to submit her request for an exemption, she joined a private Facebook group and obtained various resources of information, including how to accurately express her religious objection.
She applied for the exemption, and it was granted.
“After receiving her exemption to OU’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Ms. Ramazanova shared her request and her granted exemption in the Facebook group with the hope that it would be useful to others,” First Liberty said.
“Many members of the group were asking questions on how to best express their sincerely held religious beliefs and receive a religious accommodation.”
The school discovered that she shared information and even though there was no rule against it, ordered her to confess to “conspiracy” or face a school hearing.
At that hearing, she said she posted the information simply to share details of OU’s own exemption policy.
The school responded by convicting her of “conspiracy” and evicting her.
But, the legal team pointed out, as she was exercising her civil rights in sharing the information, the school violated hers under the First Amendment as well as the federal Fair Housing Act.
“While OU has a right to reasonable expect that ‘its students adhere to generally accepted standards of conduct,’ that expectation does not permit OU to restrict protected speech, especially in the off-campus environment,” the legal team said.
Her speech, in fact, was protected by the Constitution, making the school’s punishment of her a matter of “retaliation.”
The lawyers wrote, “Ms. Ramazanova is prepared to take legal action seeking all appropriate equitable and legal relief – including punitive damages under the FHA – to preserve her constitutional and statutory rights under federal law.”
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