A federal judge on Sunday night denied an attempt to block Indiana University from requiring that students and college employees be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to be on campus.
Eight students filed a lawsuit last month challenging the vaccination mandate, arguing it violates the 14th Amendment, as well as state law. Their filing comes as vaccination rates stagnate among conservatives and in Republican-leaning areas throughout the country, and as college-age Americans notch the lowest vaccination rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In short, the balance of harms and the public interest favor Indiana University and the determination that it has reasonably determined the best course of action for the health of its academic community this upcoming fall semester,” Judge Damon Leichty wrote in a decision that spanned more than 100 pages.
Indiana University’s rules offer students medical and religious exemptions to its vaccine mandate, though it does require people who aren't vaccinated to wear masks, socially distance from others and subject themselves to periodic testing.
The requirements are only in effect for the fall 2021 semester, and the university does not require proof of vaccination after Indiana lawmakers banned the use of so-called vaccine passports.
Universities across the country have adopted vaccine mandates, with some in Democratic-leaning states meeting little resistance.
In Indiana, however, Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, earlier this year released a nonbinding opinion that Indiana University’s initial requirements — which included proof of vaccination — ran afoul of the new state law. But the attorney general’s office also noted that mandating vaccines was not prohibited and that the university's revised policy “does not appear to violate” the law.
The students offered various reasons why they do not want to take the vaccine and oppose continued mask wearing as an alternative.
Those range from religious objections and prior Covid-19 diagnoses to concerns about developing acne from wearing masks and a belief, in the judge’s words, that “vegans and pescatarians are less likely to experience serious illness” and that “masks are silly.”
Leichty rejected the students’ arguments that Indiana University’s requirements were arbitrary and coersive, going into extensive detail about how it aligned with state and federal guidance and noting the alternatives offered by the school.
“The court isn’t saying a student doesn’t have the right to choose,” he wrote. “Of course every individual does — subject to the state’s reasonable measures designed to pursue legitimate ends of disease control or eradication.”
A spokesperson for the university said the judge’s ruling “allows us to focus on a full and safe return.”
“We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester,” Chuck Carney said in a statement.
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