Victories are amazing things. They inspire hope and, in my case, new ideas on how to fight more creatively for my clients. I have written extensively over the last few days about Kendall Cote’s stand and her victory for religious freedom at Yale University. It’s now time to talk about another one of my clients, Daisy Prokopiuk, who is facing a much more difficult fight at Norwalk Community College over the state of Connecticut’s religious bigotry.
Like Kendall, Daisy took a stand. She is a nursing student at Norwalk Community College – a state school – and a non-denominational Christian who holds the religious belief that abortion is morally wrong. In October 2020, Daisy attempted to discuss clinical placements necessary to graduate with her department chair. The department chair informed Daisy that its clinical partners would require her to provide a letter from her religious leader on official letterhead describing her religious objection to taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Daisy properly informed her department chair that the law does not require a person to have a leader to practice their religion and prohibits the state from imposing such a requirement. The department chair responded that Daisy’s own affirmation of her beliefs would not be sufficient and that the College would not work with her to find a clinical placement to accommodate her religious beliefs.
This conversation carried over into January 2021. By January 2021, Norwalk Community College’s position had changed for the worst. It gave Daisy an ultimatum: either comply with the vaccine requirements or risk losing out on completing the clinical hours that she needs to graduate and obtain her nursing certification from the state.
In delivering that ultimatum, Norwalk Community College’s officials told Daisy that her religious beliefs are “a problem.”
Because of the College’s hostility toward Daisy’s religion, she decided to explore other options that would enable her to hold to her religious convictions. She posted in a Facebook group asking for recommendations for a doctor who has had success in vouching for medical exemptions for vaccines. A woman claiming to be a registered nurse engaged her in a heated conversation over Facebook’s instant messenger, levying serious and baseless allegations of doctor shopping at her. This putative registered nurse then sent a selective account of their conversation to the College and blocked Prokopiuk on Facebook so she could not access the full conversation to defend herself.
This complaint was the pretext that the College thought it needed to drop the hammer on Daisy and the problem of her religious beliefs. It accused her of disrespecting a registered nurse and bring discredit on the College. Without allowing her to see any of the evidence against her or confront her accusers, the same people who called Daisy’s religious beliefs a problem coerced her into signing a confession in which Daisy fortunately found a way to protect herself by delivering a statement disputing the allegations. They then imposed the functional equivalent of academic probation on her – a mark of discipline that will follow her for the rest of her career in nursing.
Daisy then retained me to represent her in getting the academic probation terminated and her religious beliefs respected. I am proud to represent her in what promises to be just as much of a precedent setting case as Kendall Cote’s case was.
Norwalk Community College’s actions are particularly egregious because it is a state school. As such, the First Amendment and other constitutional rights apply to it. The list of Daisy’s constitutional rights violated by the College is long. After being retained, I sent Norwalk Community College a demand letter enumerating its violations of Daisy’s constitutional rights and asking it to reverse course. It has only doubled down. I have not received a reply, and the College attempted to review Daisy’s academic probation in the middle of her final exams. When she asked for it to be postponed and for me to be present to assist her, the College ghosted her, dooming her to indefinite academic probation until a court lifts it.
Like Kendall, Daisy will not be bullied into abandoning her faith by bigots hostile to religion and drunk on hysteria. U.S. Supreme Court precedent clearly establishes that, once the state establishes a system of individualized exemptions (i.e., medical exemptions), it cannot deny religious exemptions. Supreme Court precedent also establishes that the government cannot require a person to be associated with a religious group to receive recognition and tolerance for her faith. It also establishes that the state cannot assert pretextual excuses to censor the speech of students.
Norwalk Community College either deliberately ignored these precedents or intentionally misread them. Its treatment of Daisy is so grossly unconstitutional as to shock the conscience. I will be filing a federal lawsuit on Daisy’s behalf very shortly to bring an end to the persecution that Norwalk Community College seems hell-bent on subjecting her to. The rule of law mandates that Daisy should win that lawsuit, but we will see what the courts have to say.
Daisy faces a tough fight. She will need your prayer as will I. People of faith are under attack on all fronts in America right now. If we do not push back on bigoted assaults, people like Daisy and Kendall will become second-class citizens, and the First Amendment will cease to mean anything.
To support Daisy in her fight and other fights for liberty, please consider making a donation to We The Patriots USA – the non-profit organization who makes these fights possible.