Students Sue Indiana University Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Students Sue Indiana University Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
portrait of Dean Golembeski
By Dean Golembeski

Published on June 24, 2021

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Indiana University's rule requiring all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the start of the fall semester ran into a roadblock on June 22 when eight students filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the requirement violates their rights under the 14th Amendment. They also believe the mandate violates a state law that prohibits public entities from asking for proof of vaccination.

"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 lawsuit states.

"IU's mandate also violates Indiana's new Vaccine Passport Law which prohibits state and local units … from requiring or issuing vaccine 'passports' that indicate an individual's COVID immunization status," the lawsuit continues.

The university is requiring all students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated or get an exemption for religious or medical reasons before fall classes start. This means IU community members must be fully vaccinated by Aug. 15 or when they return to campus after Aug. 1, whichever is earlier.

The eight plaintiffs include two incoming first-year undergraduates, two incoming sophomores, a senior, an incoming first-year law student, a student pursuing a master's degree, and a doctoral candidate. Six of the students have received exemptions based on religious beliefs but the other two don't qualify for exemptions, according to the suit.

Indiana Lawmakers Seek Review of IU Mandate

The lawsuit comes after a group of Republican lawmakers wrote a letter on May 27 to Indiana University President Michael McRobbie urging him to reconsider the rule.

"We find ourselves on the cusp of victory over an enemy we have come to know as the novel coronavirus. Between the loss of life, livelihoods, and liberties once taken for granted, COVID-19 — as well as federal and state government reaction to it — has impacted all Hoosiers and all Americans," the letter reads.

"We have grave concerns regarding your latest decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all students, staff, and faculty at all Indiana University campuses — a vaccine that has only an emergency-use authorization, rather than full FDA approval. This heavy-handed mandate goes against many of the liberties on which our founders built our democratic republic," the letter continues.

Indiana Attorney General Says Mandate Is OK

Meanwhile, in response to a request from two Indiana state lawmakers, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita issued a nonbinding opinion on May 26 that concluded public universities are "arms of the state" and must abide by the state's law prohibiting vaccine passports. But he explained that the law "only prohibits public universities from requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccine; it does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself."

Following Rokita's ruling, Indiana University changed its policy from asking students to upload documentation of their vaccine status to having them fill out an online form on the school's website.

University spokesperson Chuck Carney said in a statement to the IU student newspaper that the mandate stands and that the institution is confident it will prevail in the case. Carney explained that the COVID-19 vaccine is the only way to return to in-person classes and events.

"His (the attorney general's) opinion questions specifically the manner in which we gathered proof of vaccination," Carney wrote. "Although we disagree with that portion of his opinion, we will further consider our process for verifying the requirement."

Indiana University is not alone in its stance. More than 400 colleges across the country are requiring or encouraging students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This is causing some complications for international students who don't have access to the required vaccines.

IU students are not the only students in the nation opposed to COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Hundreds of students at Rutgers University held a rally on May 21 in opposition to mandatory vaccines.


Feature Image: Sanjin Wang / Moment Open / Getty Images

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