Indiana University COVID-19 vaccine mandate to remain in place

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 9:43 AM EDT
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(WNDU) - Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate appears to be on firm legal footing.

Eight students who challenged the plan in federal court have been denied an injunction.

The ruling came out of U.S. District Court in South Bend from Judge Damon R. Leichty and will affect 90,000 I.U. students and 40,000 workers. The document has 101 pages.

Indiana law already requires public university students to be vaccinated for a half dozen diseases including measles and mumps.

Indiana University students who object to the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine can secure a medical or religious exemption but that means they must wear a mask, social distance, submit to surveillance testing, and quarantine if exposed.

The judge writes, “the students aren’t being forced to take the vaccination against their will; they can go to college elsewhere or forego college altogether. If this case were merely that, merely the right to attend university, this state action wouldn’t trample their rights. There is no fundamental or constitutional right to a college education.”

The ruling concedes that the university is presenting the students with a difficult choice but states “the choice isn’t so coercive as to constitute irreparable harm.”

As for the assertion that the vaccine itself is unapproved and unsafe, the ruling reads: “Progress has been made because of the vaccine, not despite it,” and that “Indiana University acted reasonably here in pursuing public health and safety.”

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels discussed the ruling on MSNBC. “I’m not going to be critical of those who chose a different path,” he said.

Purdue will not require the vaccination according to Daniels, who cited what he sees as practical rather than legal problems. “You know, we believe that there would be very big enforcement problems of trying to absolutely require, throw people off campus if they didn’t prove their vaccination status.”

Judge Leichty stressed that his ruling only pertains to an injunction request and that it does not deal with the merits of the case itself.

The attorney for the students vowed to appeal immediately and to ask the appeals court to stay the mandatory vaccination plan during the appeal.

One of the plaintiffs is Macey Policka who is pursuing a degree in theater with an emphasis on acting. She says wearing a mask has a huge impact on how she can interact with other actors and will put her at a distinct disadvantage to other student actors who don’t have to wear masks.

While the court “sympathizes” with her concerns, the judge wrote “these are matters for the university reasonably to address, not matters of constitutional import.”

University statement on ruling:

“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.”

A previous version of this story read:

A ruling from the federal court has affirmed Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate to remain in place after eight students sued to try and to stop it.

The mandate, which was announced back on May 21, calls for all students, faculty and staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The university will allow certain exceptions for medical or religious reasons.

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