The Montclarion

Montclair State University has announced students with religious exemptions to its coronavirus vaccine mandate will no longer be allowed to live on campus starting this summer.

Several students with religious exemptions are expressing their dissatisfaction with the new policy. Jared Vigil, a senior molecular biology major, said he has a religious exemption because he disagrees with the use of aborted fetal cells during the testing or development and production of COVID-19 vaccines. He views the policy as religious discrimination.

“There really is no other way to put it,” Vigil said. “It specifically targets people with religious exemptions in an attempt to further coerce my fellow classmates with religious faiths.”

Vigil remains hopeful that students with religious exemptions will be able to convince the university to amend the restriction.

“Religious persecution has happened plenty of times throughout history and I hope this can be another time where we as a religious community may prevail,” Vigil said.

In an Instagram poll of 136 participants by The Montclarion, 40% were in favor of the new rule, while 60% were not in favor.

Andrew Mees, the university spokesperson, said the policy is not religious discrimination.

“We are committed to being an inclusive community where all members feel able and secure enough to practice their faith, and nothing in this policy precludes any community member from doing so,” Mees said.

Mees also described the university's reasoning for its policy.

“Previously, we were allowing students who didn’t have a COVID-19 vaccination to live on campus but required them to occupy a single room — often by converting a double to a single,” Mees said. “Now, as demand for housing has increased, the university needs to make more space available. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, students who qualify for a medical exemption can reside on campus in the fall and will be assigned single rooms. There is no such legislation that applies to individuals with religious exemptions.”

Mees said students living on campus must have all required immunizations, including for coronavirus, unless they have medical exemptions in order to protect public health.

“While living on campus is a highly desired and positive experience for students, it is a privilege and not a guaranteed right,” Mees said.

He said the restriction will improve the residential experience.

“Because there will be fewer unvaccinated people in the residence halls, we will be able to lift things like the visitation policy and the guest policy, creating a more enjoyable and traditional experience for resident students,” Mees said.

According to Mees, 146 students applied for religious exemptions this semester, and 131 students were granted the exemption. The students who will no longer be able to live on campus represent 1.3% of the residential population.

Marc Hernandez, a junior food system major, said he is indifferent about the new policy. He believes there should be some leeway for religious exemptions, but that some people who simply don’t want the vaccine are taking advantage of the exception.

“I feel like they are ruining it for the people actually have those religious ideals, and I don’t think it's fair to them or the school because the people taking advantage of it are the ones partying and spreading the virus, and getting everyone sick in the dorms,” Hernandez said.

Some other students who received the vaccine sided with those who have religious exemptions.

“I just think it’s so ridiculous that the school is threatening students,” Tammy Cheng, a sophomore psychology major, said. “It’s like making someone choose between [their] religion or a vaccine.

Joshua Almanzar, a junior exercise science major, shared similar sentiments.

“For a campus that talks about inclusivity, that is quite exclusive,” he said. “I’m a person who is still finding my own religion, in all honesty, so I have no problem with anybody else’s religion.”

Nyla White, a sophomore communication and media studies major, said she strongly disagrees with the restriction.

“I feel like that just boils down to basic principles, like that’s just discrimination at that point,” White said.

White added that she does not think the policy will impact campus health and safety.

“If it’s safety that comes into question, well, if you do the stats, I believe that more people on campus are in fact vaccinated,” White said. “And if the vaccination with the booster shots are proving to keep people safe, then the number of people vaccinated with booster shots should outweigh the number of people who have these religious exemptions.”

This article was made available by the Montclarion, the student newspaper at Montclair State University. It has been edited to omit a quote provided anonymously by a student. The original version appears here.