Eight students at Indiana University have filed a lawsuit against the school over a mandatory coronavirus vaccine policy that they say is unconstitutional and a violation of a state law barring so-called vaccine passports.
In a 55-page complaint filed Monday, the students claimed the public university’s vaccination mandate for all students, staff, and faculty is a form of coercion that unnecessarily puts their health and safety at risk.
“The pandemic is virtually over,” states their lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. “Even if the pandemic was still occurring, it is unreasonable for students to get a risky, relatively untested vaccine.”
The coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the U.S. have been widely tested through clinical trials. Still, the students’ lawsuit takes issue because the vaccines have only received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. It also expresses concern that not enough time has passed to determine the vaccines’ long-term safety.
The students argue the vaccine mandate violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which includes the rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity and their right to reject medical treatment. They also argue that the mandate violates the state’s vaccine passport law, prohibiting state and local entities from requiring or issuing so-called vaccine passports indicating an individual’s COVID-19 immunization status.
University spokesperson Chuck Carney said IU had dropped an earlier requirement that students, faculty, and staff show the university proof of vaccination. This follows the state’s attorney general last month calling such a request illegal under Indiana’s “passport” law.
Carney added that the vaccine mandate would remain in place, and “the university is confident it will prevail in this case.”
“As part of IU’s response to the ongoing pandemic, the vaccine mandate is helping to support a return to safe and more normal operations this fall,” he said.
Last month, the university informed all students, staff, and faculty that they would need to be fully vaccinated before returning to the Bloomington campus after Aug. 1 for the fall semester. The university has presented stiff penalties for anyone who refuses.
Unvaccinated students risk having their class registration, student email, and student identification cards canceled and being barred from participating in any on-campus activity.
“Faculty and staff who choose not to meet the requirement will no longer be able to be employed by Indiana University. Therefore, working remotely and not meeting the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is not an option,” the university said.
The school allows some exemptions, including religious and medical exemptions with documentation. In addition, students who are enrolled in an online program that has no on-campus component can also be exempt. The school states that being enrolled in an online program is not the same thing as only taking online classes.
Six of the eight students, according to the lawsuit, had already been given religious exemptions for getting vaccinated — though they also object to having to wear a mask on campus and be tested for COVID-19, as is required of unvaccinated individuals at the university.
One such student “objects to these extra requirements given their unreasonableness and the extremely minimal risk of COVID to those in his age group,” according to the lawsuit.
Butler University, a private liberal arts school in Indianapolis, also announced this week that all students, faculty, and staff returning to campus in the fall would have to be vaccinated for the coronavirus. The University of Notre Dame, which is also private, similarly requires COVID-19 vaccination.