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Indiana University can require Covid-19 vaccines, federal judge says
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A federal judge has ruled that Indiana University may require its students to submit proof of Covid-19 vaccination before returning to campus this fall, dealing a setback to a brewing legal effort against vaccination requirements in higher education.
In a 101-page decision handed down Sunday, U.S. District Judge Damon R. Leichty said the university system acted reasonably to protect public health when it required all of its students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by July 1, with limited medical and religious exceptions.
In saying so, the judge denied an injunction sought by eight college and graduate students who claimed the university’s vaccine policy unconstitutionally infringes on their bodily autonomy and medical privacy.
The case is among the first to tackle the constitutionality of Covid-19 vaccine requirements at public universities.
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Hundreds of private and public colleges and universities have adopted vaccine policies like Indiana University’s—in schools mostly clustered on the East and West coasts. Antivaccine activists have focused on public institutions, which are bound by constitutional restraints as government entities, and have brought lawsuits under the 14th Amendment and its protection of fundamental liberties.
The University of Connecticut and California State University systems are facing similar lawsuits, with rulings pending from federal judges.
Chuck Carney, a spokesman for Indiana University, praised Judge Leichty’s analysis.
"We appreciate the quick and thorough ruling which allows us to focus on a full and safe return," Mr. Carney said. "We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester."
An attorney representing the students, conservative activist James Bopp Jr., said he would appeal. "We think the court made a fundamental error," he said.
Federal courts have consistently upheld vaccination requirements at K-12 schools and workplaces, according to James G. Hodge, a professor of public health law at Arizona State University.