IU students file federal lawsuit against university COVID-19 vaccine policy

(WISH) — A group of eight incoming and current Indiana University students have filed a federal lawsuit against the university in opposition to its requirement that students, faculty and staff receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The lawsuit argues that the university’s vaccine policy violates both the 14th Amendment and a newly passed Indiana law that prohibits the state or a local unit from issuing or requiring a COVID-19 “immunization passport.”

IU announced May 21 that beginning with the fall 2021 semester, everyone returning to campus would need to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Days later, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita in a public opinion said he believed the IU policy violated House Bill 1405 passed this year, which states while universities can require the vaccine but can’t require proof from students. IU officials disagreed with Rokita’s assessment, pointing to a statement from state Rep. Chris Campbell, a co-author of the law. Campbell said state universities and colleges are not covered by the bill.

In June, the university revised its policy, no longer requiring people to upload documentation of vaccination. Students, faculty and staff are instead required to use an online form to affirm that they have been vaccinated. IU also released information about vaccine exemption criteria:

  • Religious exemptions, according to Indiana law.
  • Medical exemptions with proper documentation stating either an allergy to the vaccines or their components.
  • Medical deferrals for several other circumstances:
    • Active pregnancy or active breastfeeding only if the provider is requesting an exemption. The exemption lasts only until you’re no longer actively pregnant or actively breastfeeding. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are not contraindications for vaccination.
    • Immunocompromised individuals only with provider request for an exemption and only for those who have recent (within the past 3-6 months) hematopoietic or solid organ transplant, or on active treatment with Rituximab within the past 3-6 months.
    • Have received COVID-specific monoclonal antibodies in the past 90 days.
  • An online program exemption for students who are in a 100% online program with no on-campus component.

Six of the eight students who are plaintiffs in the case requested and were granted a religious exemption. They all either also objected generally to the mandate or objected to the additional requirements of masks and testing that were part of the exemption, according to the lawsuit.

The seventh student said she has “a sincerely held religious objection” to the mandate but did not request an exemption “because she does not believe that it adequately protects her from IU’s mandate,” according to the lawsuit.

The eighth student objects generally to the mandate and said she believes taking the vaccine puts her health at risk. She also objects to the extra requirement of masks and testing, according to the lawsuit.

The students are asking the court to declare the university mandate unconstitutional, keep IU from enforcing the mandate and grant the students the costs of the lawsuit and attorney fees.

News 8 spoke with the Bopp Law Firm who is representing the students.

“No other governmental agency, no other public university in Indiana, no county, the FDA doesn’t require, mandate vaccines, the CDC doesn’t mandate vaccines, you just have to wonder how could this possibly be justified,” said James Bopp Jr.

IU responded Monday to the lawsuit, saying it was confident the university would prevail and that the university had revised its policy to no longer require proof of vaccination following Rokita’s public opinion:

The requirement for all Indiana University students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated before the return to school in August remains in place. 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.

The university is confident it will prevail in this case. Following release of the Indiana attorney general’s opinion, our process was revised, with uploading proof of vaccination no longer required. The attorney general’s opinion affirmed our right to require the vaccine.

Indiana University