A federal judge recently upheld Indiana University’s mandate for students, faculty, and staff to get vaccinated against the coronavirus before coming back to campus in the fall.
Last month, eight of the university’s students pushed back against the requirement, filing a lawsuit to halt the mandate.
The lawsuit said that “IU’s Mandate violates the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which includes rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity…and the right to reject medical treatment.”
The students also say the mandate violates Indiana law, since it’s against the law for state and local units to require or issue immunization passports, except in certain situations.
In an opinion, U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty conceded that “The university is presenting the students with a difficult choice—get the vaccine or else apply for an exemption or deferral, transfer to a different school, or forego school for the semester or altogether. But this hard choice doesn’t amount to coercion.”
He noted that “Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff.”
“Today, on this preliminary record, the university has done so for its campus communities. The students haven’t established a likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourteenth Amendment claim or the many requirements that must precede the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction,” he added.
The university’s requirement stated that students, faculty, and staff needed to be fully vaccinated by August 15 or when they come back to campus after August 1, whichever was earlier.
If anyone chooses not to get vaccinated, the university noted that students would “see their class registration cancelled…access to IU systems (Canvas, email, etc.) terminated, and will not be allowed to participate in any on campus activity.” If faculty and staff don’t get vaccinated, they will be fired. “Working remotely and not meeting the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is not an option,” the university’s website made clear.
The university allowed religious, ethical, or “[m]edical exemptions with documentation from your provider of an allergy to the COVID-19 vaccines or their components.” Students who are in an all-online program can also get an exemption.
The requirement allowed for some medical deferrals, as well, in situations like “Active pregnancy or active breastfeeding,” but “only if the provider is requesting an exemption.” It added, “The exemption lasts only until you’re no longer actively pregnant or actively breastfeeding. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are not contraindications for vaccination.”
The lawsuit pointed out, however, that the school still requires anyone who gets an exemption to follow “Extra Requirements” including participation in “mitigation testing twice a week, a mandatory quarantine” if they are around someone who has COVID, “mandatory face masks in public spaces, and a mandatory return to their home address” if there is a serious outbreak on campus.
The plaintiffs also claimed that if a person with an exemption doesn’t wear a face mask or do the mitigation testing, they face “disciplinary action up to and including dismissal or termination from the university.”
Purdue University President and former Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels responded to the judge’s decision.
Daniels said, “We’re with that very large majority of American colleges and universities who are not planning to require the vaccine this fall…I’m not going to be critical of those who choose a different path.”
Daniels explained Purdue’s own system, stating, “…we have offered a choice model and people can either choose to stay with the system we used all last year where all of us were subject to surveillance testing on a regular basis or they can exempt themselves by getting vaccinated.”
In a statement per The Washington Post, IU said, “A ruling from the federal court has affirmed Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccination plan designed for the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.”
“We appreciate the quick and thorough ruling which allows us to focus on a full and safe return. We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester,” the university added.
An IU spokesman said that around 80% of students, staff, and faculty have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.
James Bopp, Jr., the lawyer who is representing the students, said that they plan to appeal the decision.
“Continuing our fight against this unconstitutional mandate is necessary to guarantee that IU students receive the fair due process they’re owed by a public university,” Bopp said. “An admitted IU student’s right to attend IU cannot be conditioned on the student waiving their rights to bodily integrity, bodily autonomy, and consent to medical treatment like IU has done here.”