Federal appeals court denies motion for injunction, says IU can continue COVID-19 vaccination policy

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Registered nurse Morgan James loads a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage on March 19, 2021. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – A federal appeals court says Indiana University can continue its COVID-19 vaccine requirement as the fall semester begins.

In a Monday ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion for an injunction that sought to stop IU’s policy.

Plaintiffs argued that the mandatory vaccine policy violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

A federal judge had previously denied a motion for a preliminary injunction.

The appeals court’s decision heavily referenced Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a 20th century case involving a smallpox vaccine mandate. The Supreme Court held in that case that the vaccine policy was constitutional.

The Jacobson case, the court said, involved a vaccination requirement that lacked exceptions for adults. Indiana University’s vaccine policy, on the other hand, allows exemptions on religious and medical grounds.

“The problems that may arise when a state refuses to make accommodations therefore are not present in this case,” the court said. “Indeed, six of the eight plaintiffs have claimed the religious exemption, and a seventh is eligible for it. These plaintiffs just need to wear masks and be tested, requirements that are not constitutionally problematic.”

The court also said that IU’s policy makes vaccination a condition of attending the university, adding that students who didn’t want to get vaccinated could seek “ample educational opportunities” elsewhere. Students also pay for their education, the court noted.

Universities commonly require vaccinations (measles, mumps, rubella, influenza, etc.) as a condition of enrollment, the court said. Students also pay for their education.

The appeals court added that, while the state itself can’t tell anyone what to read or write, a state university may “demand that students read things they prefer not to read and write things they prefer not to write.”

From the conclusion:

If conditions of higher education may include surrendering property and following instructions about wht to read and write, it is hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that help all students remain safe when learning. A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading disease. Few people want to return to remote education—and we do not think that the Constitution forces the distance-learning approach on a university that believes vaccination (or masks and frequent testing of the unvaccinated) will make in-person operations safe enough.

The motion for an injunction pending appeal is denied.

Indiana University released the following statement on the ruling:

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.

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