Former Washington State coach Nick Rolovich’s attorney provided a potential glimpse into the reasoning behind the school's denial of Rolovich’s religious exemption application on Wednesday.
Rolovich was fired Monday after he refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Monday was the deadline for all state of Washington employees to be fully vaccinated. Throughout the summer and early fall, Rolovich had held firm in his refusal to get vaccinated and didn’t offer much of an explanation for his decision. When he was fired, Rolovich became the first major college football coach to lose his job over vaccine mandates.
In a statement Wednesday morning announcing future legal action, attorney Brian Fahling said Rolovich was morally against taking a COVID-19 vaccine because of his Catholic faith despite the Catholic church’s strong advocation for vaccination.
“It is a tragic and damning commentary on our culture, and more specifically [on Washington State athletic director Pat Chun], that Coach Rolovich has been derided, demonized and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith," Fahling's statement said.
Chun, who declined comment to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel about Rolovich’s impending suit, was not involved in the decision to deny Rolovich’s religious exemption. While the statement didn’t shed light on the details of Rolovich’s application for exemption, it revealed that his application was denied in the first step of a two-step review process.
All state employees applying for exemptions were placed in a blind review process. If the application was granted in the blind review, it was then forwarded to the employee’s supervisors for further examination and potential accommodation.
According to Fahling's statement, Rolovich’s application didn’t even make Chun’s desk. And it’s now seemingly easy to see how it didn’t get past that first step of the process. Were state employees really going to side with an anonymous employee’s argument over the Pope’s?
As vaccines have become available across the world, the Catholic church has been a strong proponent of vaccination to help end the pandemic. Pope Francis has been a big part of that outreach. In August — the same day that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that university employees would need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 — the Pope and bishops from the Americas were part of a three-minute ad campaign promoting vaccines.
“Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love,” he said in the ad. “And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love — love for oneself, love for one’s family and friends, love for all people.”
The Vatican’s push for vaccination throughout the year has come after there were initially questions in some Catholic circles regarding the morality of vaccines because of their use of cell lines from fetal tissue via abortions from over 50 years ago.
The church addressed those questions in a lengthy statement in December and said that “it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”
Rolovich's application for exemption faced an uphill battle from the start. As of early October, nearly 80% of the over 400 religious exemption applications at Washington State had ultimately been denied. And with so much public data available regarding the church's pro-vaccination stance, Rolovich's application might have even had slimmer odds of being granted. While he could make a more compelling argument about efficacy of the run-pass option than the Pope, it's hard to see how Rolovich could have out-argued the Pope on matters of public health and social justice.