'People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere': Court backs Indiana University mandate

INDIANAPOLIS — Students who don’t like Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement can go elsewhere for their education.

That was the message delivered by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling issued Monday that will allow the public university’s requirement that all students and employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine before the start of the fall semester to stand.

The court said that colleges and universities may decide what is necessary to keep students safe in the decision denying a request for an injunction made by a group of eight students seeking to block the mandate, alleging that it violates their constitutional rights.

“People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere,” wrote Judge Frank Easterbrook in the decision. He added that the university would have trouble operating if students were afraid that those around them were spreading disease.

The students’ lawyer, James Bopp Jr., said he will be filing an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

'People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere': Court backs Indiana University mandate

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IU’s policy, announced this spring, requires all students, faculty and staff in the fall semester to be fully vaccinated either by Aug. 15 or when returning to campus after Aug. 1, whichever is earlier.

There are certain medical and religious exemptions to the mandate, but unvaccinated students will need to continue following some coronavirus mitigation strategies the university is easing for other students who are fully vaccinated.

“Once again, the court has affirmed our legitimate public health interest in assuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff, and we are excited to welcome our community back for the fall semester,” said IU spokesperson Chuck Carney in a statement released Monday.

In court last month, Bopp argued that the vaccine requirement violates students’ rights to bodily integrity, informed choice of medical treatment and religious freedom, essentially forcing them to choose between getting vaccinated and continuing their education at IU. A federal judge sided with IU in the case, prompting the students to appeal to the 7th Circuit.

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While several of the students involved in the suit have applied for, and been granted, exemptions based on their religious beliefs, the complaint says they also object to extra requirements put on students who receive exemptions, such as required mask-wearing in public spaces and twice-weekly COVID-19 mitigation testing.

IU’s vaccine requirement came from recommendations put forth by the university’s “restart committee,” charged by then-IU President Michael McRobbie with getting campuses back to pre-pandemic operations. But the mandate has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced earlier this year. State officials have called on the university to rescind the mandate; others have asked Gov. Eric Holcomb to block it.

Other private higher education institutions around the state have adopted similar policies, including Butler University and the University of Notre Dame.

Follow Arika Herron on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

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