By Elizabeth Stuart and Eric Levenson, CNN
A federal judge on Sunday preliminarily upheld Indiana University’s policy requiring students to receive Covid-19 vaccinations before returning to campus for the fall semester.
“Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff,” Judge Damon Leichty wrote in the 101-page ruling.
“Today, on this preliminary record, the university has done so for its campus communities.”
The ruling came after eight students had filed a lawsuit claiming the schools vaccine policy was unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment and state law.
The part of the 14th Amendment cited in Leichty’s ruling says no state may deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
IU first announced its plan to require students, faculty and staff receive Covid-19 vaccinations before the fall semester in June. The university is one of more than 100 US colleges and universities that are requiring students to get vaccinated.
Indiana University praised the ruling in a statement to CNN.
“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,” IU said. “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.”
James Bopp Jr., the lead attorney for the plaintiffs and the director of litigation for America’s Frontline Doctors, said they planned to appeal.
“Today’s ruling does not end the students’ fight — we plan to immediately appeal the judge’s decision,” Bopp said in a statement. “In addition, we plan on asking the judge to put a hold on IU’s Mandate pending that appeal. We are confident the court of appeals will agree that the Mandate should be put on hold.”
The US Supreme Court has long held that states and public schools can mandate vaccinations. Judge Leichty’s ruling pointed out the state of Indiana’s long-standing requirements for other vaccinations prior to going to school.
“Indiana requires all public university students to be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, and meningococcal disease before attending school. All but one of these vaccinations have been required since 1993,” the ruling said.
In denying the motion, the ruling also points out the university allows for certain exemptions, including religious and medical reasons, and said that students therefore have “multiple choices, not just forced vaccination.”
In late April, the state of Indiana passed a law banning state or local units from requiring an immunization passport, so any vaccine requirement must be based on an honor system.
Across the country, young Americans have been vaccinated at lower rates than older Americans, and young people have also gotten infected more than any other demographic. People aged 18-29 make up 16.4% of the US population but account for 22.5% of all Covid-19 cases, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Generally, young unvaccinated people are less likely to have severe outcomes from Covid-19 than old unvaccinated people, but they still can get seriously ill and spread the virus to other people. Unvaccinated people also provide further opportunities for dangerous mutations, such as the Delta variant, to develop.
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