Cote’s Stand…. It is a fitting description of my client, Kendall Cote, and her precedent-setting, religious discrimination case with Yale University. Kendall’s remarkable courage in standing firm on her religious convictions in the face of possible expulsion from Yale’s elite, fast track APRN program led to an overnight policy change at Yale and secured tolerance, if not respect, of religious beliefs for her classmates. More importantly, Kendall’s case breaks new ground in that state public accommodations law proved to be a deciding factor in her case.
Kendall and I told part of her story to the nation on Fox News. The full story, however, truly demonstrates Kendall’s courage and principle in the face of devastating consequences.
Kendall is a mom to a ten-year old, and she is enrolled in Yale University’s fast-track APRN program – a unique and elite program at one of the nation’s most prestigious schools. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale University adapted like the rest of us did. The classes and activities that students had to do in-person were done in accordance with Connecticut’s COVID-19 guidelines. When the COVID-19 vaccines were made generally available, Yale University implemented a plan to require its students to receive one.
How Yale went about mandating the vaccines though was less than professional or ethical though. Its first step was to demand that all students sign a compact requiring them to get the vaccine without letting them know if Yale would be offering exemptions to the vaccine requirement. When it finally rolled out medical and religious exemptions, Yale categorically barred Health Sciences students from asserting religious exemptions although I have heard rumors that it allowed Health Sciences employees to claim religious exemptions.
Kendall holds the religious conviction that abortion is the intentional termination of the life of another human being (I call it unjustified, intentional, premeditated murder, but she’s more diplomatic). She believes that having anything to do with an abortion – no matter how remote – would make her a party in some way to it. As such, her religious beliefs do not allow her to derive any benefits from an abortion.
The currently available COVID-19 vaccines were either manufactured with cells derived from an aborted fetus or tested using cells derived from an aborted fetus. Thus, Kendall could not, in good conscience, receive a COVID-19 vaccine without violating her conscience.
Realizing that Yale’s compact left no tolerance for her beliefs, Kendall respectfully refused to sign or agree to it. Yale responded by revoking her campus badge access, jeopardizing her attendance at one of the most important, required, hands-on events of her degree at Yale. Kendall was told that, if she was found on Yale property, she would be treated as a trespasser.
Kendall faced possible expulsion from the program if she could not attend the hands-on simulation, and Yale University did not indicate if they would find a way to accommodate her while the situation was worked out. Desperate to continue her education and preserve her sacrifices, Kendall contacted We The Patriots USA – a national public interest organization, which put her in touch with me.
When I first got the call from We The Patriots USA, two things immediately struck me about Kendall’s case. First, Yale is a private university, and I would have to deliver an exceptional performance to preserve Kendall’s hopes and dreams. Second, Yale was acting like a schoolyard bully who needs a bloody nose.
I agreed to take Kendall’s case, and we ultimately worked to chart a path forward. We submitted a request for a religious exemption to Yale University and redoubled her requests to be accommodated for her simulation. I began work on the worst case scenario: litigation.
Our efforts paid off. Our repeated requests for tolerance of Kendall’s religious convictions and our protests at the categorical bar on Health Sciences students requesting religious exemptions caught Yale’s attention. It held an emergency meeting to address the categorical bar and reversed that policy. Kendall’s religious exemption was granted later that day, and she was able to attend her simulation.
What became abundantly clear to us in this process is that Yale and the rest of academia talks a good game about tolerance and diversity for public consumption, but they have no respect for religion – Christianity in particular – that conflicts with the hysteria of the day or a radical agenda hell-bent on morally bankrupting this country. Yale has entire pages of its website and entire departments on its campus devoted to promoting diversity and inclusion. It boldly proclaims that it does not discriminate against religion, but promotes and encourages it.
Kendall Cote found out how hollow that promise was when her religious beliefs conflicted with a radical social agenda that views abortion as the sacrament of women’s “empowerment” and a hysteria that requires paternalistic overlords to save us all from dying. Her beliefs were unacceptable and categorically excluded from tolerance and respect at Yale.
We are at a crossroads in America. Hysteria and radical agendas have replaced reason and the rule of law. Racism suddenly became a public health crisis necessitating mass protections and exceptions to the COVID-19 “emergency.” But God forbid that we respect Christians’ consciences when they hold to a 2000 year old Biblical tradition in believing that abortion is morally wrong and intentional, premeditated murder.
Connecticut public accommodations law requires Yale not to discriminate against a student’s religion. A court likely would have found that Yale’s own public advertising and promises of diversity imposed a contractual obligation on it to not discriminate against Kendall Cote. Despite all of these legal requirements, Yale was on course to discriminate against Kendall Cote on the basis of religion.
The only reason that they stopped is that they got caught by someone who was ready to fight instead of rolling over.
Kendall is not an “irrational” nutcase. She was willing to toe Dr. Fauci’s line by wearing a mask, social distancing, and getting regular COVID tests. All she asked was for Yale to respect her religious beliefs. It is a symptom of the cultural war on religion – Christianity in particular – and a sad day in America when she had to plead and beg for tolerance and threaten legal action to get Yale University to tolerate her religious convictions.
I am honored that Kendall Cote chose me to represent her. She faced expulsion and the destruction of life-long dreams. She took a stand on her faith. She won, and, in doing so, she backed down a schoolyard bully named Yale University and set a national precedent for students of faith to push back against the paternalistic and bigoted academic establishment. That’s a win for us all.
Thank God for Cote’s Stand wherever you are.
Cameron Atkinson is a Christian, a trial and appellate lawyer at Pattis & Smith, LLC, a former business consultant, a published constitutional scholar, and a general hell-raiser. He has taken on substantial roles in briefing cases to the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Connecticut Appellate Court, and multiple New York appellate courts. His past experience includes working for a federal judge and a state prosecutor in Connecticut and a civil litigation firm in New York. Atkinson has also consulted for countless startups seeking investment and several private investors looking to speculate in various industry disruption ventures.
Atkinson currently specializes in criminal defense, civil rights, employment, and any other case involving constitutional law that strikes him as worth a good fight. He takes a special interest in First Amendment cases involving free speech and a person’s freedom to exercise his or her religion. While he now prefers to have his business consulting tied to his law practice, he will consider business consulting on a stand-alone basis.