Indiana University Students Appeal Federal Judge’s Refusal to Block Vaccine Mandate

A group of Indiana University students on Tuesday appealed a federal judge’s ruling denying their motion to put the university’s COVID vaccine mandate on hold pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit they filed last month.

A group of Indiana University (IU) students on Tuesday appealed a federal judge’s ruling denying their motion to put the university’s COVID vaccine mandate on hold pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit they filed last month.

The students also asked the district court to prevent the university from enforcing the mandate while the appeal is pending.

In a hearing on the preliminary injunction Monday, the district court found the students’ constitutional rights were at issue, but failed to acknowledge these rights were fundamental.

Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana said he weighed individual freedom against public health concerns in his ruling.

According to the New York Times, Leichty’s ruling appeared to be the first case in which a university’s coronavirus vaccine requirement has been upheld. Yet in delivering the ruling Leichty expressed his personal misgivings, citing individual freedom and self-determination.

The Times wrote:

“Somebody could point to ‘a certain Emersonian self-reliance and self-determination as preference — an unfettered right of the individual to choose the vaccine or not,’ Judge Leichty, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, wrote in his ruling. But he added that judicial restraint was required to avoid ‘superimposing any personal view in the guise of constitutional interpretation.”

The university released a statement on the 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.”

While the lawsuit can proceed, the ruling denies a motion for an injunction on the policy for the fall semester unless the appellate court overturns the ruling.

In May, IU announced it would require all students, faculty and staff to receive COVID vaccinations before they could return to campus for the fall semester, with stringent and limited exemptions to the mandate for those with religious or medical exemptions.

Even those students granted an exemption are subject to rigorous extra requirements, regardless of why they received an exemption, The Bopp Law Firm, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release.

Those who are granted an exemption have to undergo more rigorous COVID rules, including testing and mask-wearing when on campus. Masks are optional for those who are fully vaccinated, Fox 59 reported.

The policy was controversial right out of the gate, with some Indiana lawmakers urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to rescind it. Attorney General Todd Rokita said last month the policy “clearly runs afoul” to state law.

After Rokita’s announcement the school changed the policy from requiring students to upload documentation of their vaccine status to having to fill out an online form, but did not revoke the vaccine mandate.

The eight student plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit against the mandate include two incoming freshmen, two incoming sophomores, a senior, an incoming first-year law student, a student pursuing a master’s degree in business administration and a doctoral candidate, CNN reported.

Six of the students have received exemptions based on religious beliefs. The other two don’t qualify for exemptions, the lawsuit says. Several of the plaintiffs also object to mask requirements and other measures for unvaccinated students.

James Bopp Jr., lead counsel for the plaintiffs told CNN:

“They’re suing because they’re being stripped of their constitutional rights to make medical treatment decisions for themselves and to protect their own bodily integrity. After all, they are adults and they would like to weigh the risks and consequences of taking the vaccination or getting COVID.”

The Bopp Law Firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of IU students in the U.S. District Court in Indiana challenging IU’s mandate to preserve the students’ rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, due process and the right to consent to medical treatment.

The students sought a temporary injunction to stop the mandate from going into effect, and asked the school to make public documents, which IU has so far kept secret, revealing why IU mandated COVID vaccinations for all IU students, and how COVID infections and vaccinations have affected the university.

Bopp’s team submitted a public records request to IU asking for the same documents, but no documents have been released.