DENVER — A nursing student in Denver was kicked out of the University of Colorado’s medical program after the school reneged on its offer for those enrolled to seek a religious exemption over the institution’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Caroline Pinto, 27, had just entered her second semester of the nursing program at the university’s Anschutz Medical Campus when administrators began implementing new COVID-19 protocols for students who returned to campus.
Over the summer, “we were all remote, so there wasn’t much talk about COVID or anything like that, or what going back would be like,” Pinto explained, after she began the program in June. As the next semester came closer to putting students back in the classroom, however, things began to change.
On July 7, the school chancellor sent out a message that all students had to be vaccinated by Sept. 1. Several days prior, the university had assured Pinto, who had been proactive in seeking forms for an exemption, that “CU’s process allows exemptions to anyone who requests one for any reason; religious, medical or personal.”
“There is no formal documentation or proof necessary,” the school initially wrote in a July 2 email reviewed by The Federalist. “We trust our students and employees.”
Chancellor Don Elliman’s statement rolling out the vaccine mandate made clear “medical and religious exemptions are available” through a simple form, which students would need to formally file the request.
Two months later, Pinto came to campus as a second-class citizen, forced to follow a strict regimen that included a daily questionnaire and weekly testing in order to maintain enrollment. Pinto was also forced to socially distance at all times both indoors and outdoors, while wearing a mask except for when outside more than 10 feet from others. Pinto complied, and followed up with the school to ensure she remained in good standing with the university.
“I heard I was in compliance,” she told The Federalist, having followed the protocols in place for the unvaccinated. Indeed, in another chain of emails shared with The Federalist, Pinto was assured by the College of Nursing “your religious exemption from the COVID vaccination has been received and you are compliant.”
On Aug. 27 however, Pinto received another email from Fara Bowler, the director of the Clinical Education Center and Simulation for the College of Nursing, that the university’s requirements for a religious exemption had been updated. Bowler sent Pinto a more comprehensive form requiring a detailed explanation of her faith and the reasons behind her refusal to vaccinate against the novel coronavirus. Pinto had three days to submit it, which she did, outlining in more than 800 words her moral and ethical objections to taking the vaccine.
“[Johnson & Johnson] uses abortion-derived cell lines. Cell lines cultured from aborted fetal tissue are used in the development (J&J) and testing (Moderna and Pfizer) of the available vaccines,” she wrote. “As a Christian and pro-life proponent, this strongly conflicts with my beliefs and convictions.”
Pinto also raised concerns over the long-term consequences of the vaccines as someone who is immunocompromised.
“I am immune-suppressed and receive infusions every six weeks. From my research as well as discussion with my doctor,” she explained, “there is no data as to how these vaccines will affect immune-suppressed individuals over time.”
Pinto ended her submission with a list of 14 questions about the coronavirus vaccine. None were answered in the school’s response 10 days later, stating that her request for exemption was denied and alerting her that she had five days to get vaccinated. The school did not offer any reason for the denial beyond citing the American Nurses Association’s absence of endorsement for “philosophical or religious exemptions.”
On Sept. 16, Pinto was dismissed from the nursing program for her refusal to take the vaccine.
In an emailed statement to The Federalist, the University of Colorado did not offer any detailed explanation beyond repeating its policy was aligned with the American Nurses Association.
“We are prevented from discussing any students under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” a spokesman wrote. “CU Anschutz strives to be a public health leader in Colorado and beyond and implement campus policies that reflect its values and mission.”
While the university website still maintains religious exemptions may be requested, Pinto’s experience says otherwise. The university did not respond to The Federalist’s inquiry whether the school would still honor exemption requests at all and for whom.
Though she may qualify for a medical exemption given her suppressed immune system, Pinto said she would refuse out of principle, despite having taken a low-paying full-time job and applying twice to get into the nursing program.
“I probably could have groveled and been like ‘well what can I do? How can I get around this?’ But I was like ‘no, this is insane,’” she said. “I can guarantee you if I was a black Muslim, this would not be an issue. But because I’m white and claiming Christianity, that is a problem.”
“If I don’t stand for something in this moment, I feel like I’m denying myself a growth experience, which it may be more painful than I realize once it sets in because I feel like I haven’t really processed it yet,” she added.